Northern Ireland

Arlene Foster: 'Gays are welcome' in DUP

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Media captionThe gay marriage row was a 'storm in a teacup', Ms Foster told BBC News NI

Gay people are welcome in the membership of the DUP, First Minister Arlene Foster has told BBC News NI.

Many gay people vote for the party, said the DUP leader.

"This suggestion that every single person who is a homosexual wants to change the definition of marriage is wrong," she said.

"I know plenty of people in that community who don't want to see marriage redefined are quite content to live in partnership."

The first minister has denied letting online abuse harden her opposition to same-sex marriage.

Image caption Ms Foster said she had been subjected to 'vicious' online abuse by gay activists over the gay marriage issue

The DUP's support for the traditional definition of marriage was a manifesto commitment, said Mrs Foster, adding that she would continue to use a petition of concern to veto any attempts to change the law on marriage at Stormont.

A petition of concern places the requirement of a cross-community majority on a motion in the assembly.

'Name calling'

The first minister told PA on Thursday that she and her colleagues had been subjected to "vicious" online abuse by gay activists, but suggested that far from influencing her this would send her in "the opposite direction".

However, she told BBC News NI it was a complete misrepresentation to say the DUP makes its decisions on the basis of online abuse.

Mrs Foster told BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics programme that if people wanted to have a rational debate about marriage, she would be willing to engage, but "please don't call me all the names of the day on social media".

She said she would not meet LGBT activists who abuse her over the internet.

'Individual conscience'

On the issue of women procuring abortion pills over the internet, the DUP leader said: "The law is what it is and if someone breaks it then due process has to be gone through."

She said it should be a matter for the individual conscience of medical professionals to decide whether they should tell the police about such cases, or maintain patient confidentiality.

The first minister said she had still not received a report from a working group on the issue of terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, even though it is a fortnight since the health and justice ministers confirmed they had been given the document.

Mrs Foster said the working group had been engaged in an "important piece of work on a hugely sensitive issue.

"Therefore we have to give it due consideration," she added.

She did not clarify whether DUP MLAs would be given a free vote on the matter should any change in the law be proposed.

Image caption The First Minister said she had still not received a report from a working group on the issue of terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities

Brexit 'sideshow'

On Brexit, the DUP leader welcomed the rejection of a court challenge by other parties at the Belfast High Court.

Mrs Foster described the case as "a futile attempt to drag the peace process and the Belfast agreement" into the Brexit debate.

The first minister was also scathing about next week's all island civic dialogue on Brexit, which is being convened by the Irish government.

She described it as an "absolute sideshow" which would merely provide an opportunity for political "grandstanding".

After the UK leaves the European Union, Mrs Foster insisted, there could be no question of people having to show passports to travel between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

The DUP leader said she had told both the prime minister and the Northern Ireland secretary that it was a "red line" that Northern Ireland must be treated in exactly the same way as any other part of the UK when it comes to passports.

She said other issues, such as access to the European Single Market or the Customs Union, would develop during the course of the UK-EU negotiations.

Last weekend the Ulster Unionists invited the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood to their conference as a symbol of the unity of the new Stormont opposition.

But Mrs Foster described this as a "sign of desperation", and said there was absolutely no chance she would be inviting her partner in government, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, to a DUP conference anytime soon.

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