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Northern Irish Muslims win apology

06 June 2014

pa

Public apology: the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, speaks to the media during a visit to the Islamic Centre in Belfast, on Tuesday

Public apology: the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, speaks to the media during a visit to the Islamic Centre in Belfast, on Tues...

THE Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, met a 60-strong representation from the Muslim community on Tuesday evening, to apologise for supporting an Evangelical preacher at the church he attends, who said that Muslims who supported sharia could not be trusted for spiritual advice.

In a sermon earlier this month, Pastor James McConnell alleged that there were "cells" of Muslims in Britain akin to those of the IRA, and that Islam was a heathen, satanic doctrine spawned in hell.

He also recalled Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech of 1968, and said: "Enoch Powell was a prophet, and he told us that blood would flow in the streets, and it has happened."

Mr Robinson, who attends the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in North Belfast, where Pastor McConnell preached, had said that he strongly supported the pastor's right to freedom of speech, but acknowledged that there were many Muslims who had made a significant contribution to life in Northern Ireland.

In an effort to defuse the row, he had said that he would never seek to cause any insult to any section of the community, and that he would "demonstrate my ongoing support for [local Muslim leaders] as integral law-abiding citizens in Northern Ireland".

On Wednesday of last week, Dr Raied Al-Wazzan, from the Belfast Islamic Centre, invited Mr Robinson to visit him. Noting the support for the Muslim community from other politicians, churches, and individuals in Northern Ireland after the remarks, Dr Al-Wazzan said: "We have got lots of support from the major politicians in Northern Ireland; we have lots of support from churches in Northern Ireland; and lots of ordinary people and organisations phoned us and emailed in support of us."

The Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, of Sinn Féin, said that the remarks by Pastor McConnell which the First Minister supported were an example of hate-mongering. "Coming in the wake of the recent spate of disgraceful racist attacks against families in parts of Belfast and elsewhere, such inflammatory comments only serve to fuel hatred," he said.

"I value the . . . significant and valuable contribution the Muslim community makes to this society day and daily. There is a real need for all of us in positions of responsibility to step out of our own political constituencies and religious groupings, and show genuine political leadership for all."

After the meeting on Tuesday at the Belfast Islamic Centre, Mr Robinson said: "I apologised to these gentlemen if anything I said caused them hurt, and I can see that in many cases it has. I apologised to them face to face, personally, man to man, the way it should be done."

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has denounced the remarks as "unacceptable". It is understood that the PSNI are investigating the possibility that a "hate crime" may have been committed.

Anti-racism protests held in Belfast. An estimated 4000 people attended an anti-racism rally in Belfast, and hundreds staged a similar protest in Derry last weekend.

The incoming Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Revd Dr Michael Barry, said at his installation on Monday that racism remained an affront to democracy and civic values in the North, and should stop immediately.

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