Sexual Orientation Strategy

Oral Answers to Questions — Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 27th April 2015.

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Photo of Oliver McMullan Oliver McMullan Sinn Féin 2:15 pm, 27th April 2015

4. Mr McMullan asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister what assurances they can give that a sexual orientation strategy will be completed and implemented without delay. (AQO 8007/11-15)

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

Mr Speaker, with your permission, I will ask junior Minister Jonathan Bell to answer this question.

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

We have regularly stated our commitment to producing a sexual orientation strategy in the Assembly and in the text of the good relations strategy, 'Together: Building a United Community'. To achieve that commitment, we asked officials to commence a public consultation process. The first phase of that process ended in June last year. The analysis of responses to that 12-week consultation has been completed, and the results are being used to inform the content of a draft sexual orientation strategy. It is our intention to develop the strategy using the outcomes-based approach. That view was shared at the most recent meeting of the sexual orientation project team on 15 April 2015.

Work will continue over the coming weeks to develop outcomes and subsequent indicators with the project team. Once the draft strategy is finalised, it will be referred to the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister for consideration, before seeking Executive agreement. A further 12-week period of consultation will then take place, and I anticipate that the sexual orientation strategy will be published after that final phase of consultation.

Photo of Oliver McMullan Oliver McMullan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the junior Minister for his answer so far. Given recent events, will the junior Minister confirm that we need a sexual orientation strategy urgently, and will he distance himself from the views expressed by his party colleague Jim Wells?

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

I will answer the questions in reverse order. Jim Wells has made it clear that his comments on child abuse were inaccurate and wrong. It is not a DUP view or policy. We immediately publicly indicated that it was not the DUP view now, nor will it be.

Anyone who says that it is because they want to use it for some form of electioneering or whatever can take that wherever they want to go, but it is not helpful to people who are looking towards the strategy, particularly given the levels of mental ill health that the sector has come and spoken to me about. Young people are experiencing not only mental-health issues but suicidal ideation. Those are issues that the trans community has spoken to me about in particular. The strategy will be there to try to give best practice to all our people. Let me make it clear that we value the innate human dignity and worth of every one of our people, regardless of their background, the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

Does the junior Minister agree with me and indeed with very solid research from institutions such as the University of Cambridge that, when it comes to a child thriving at home, it is all about the degree of engagement and quality of support that the child gets, not about whether there is a single parent, mother and father or two parents of the same sex?

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

There is a lot of research on child development. What we know is that children thrive best where there is stability, security and love. In fact, the greatest gift that we can give all our children is the gift of time to make sure that they grow up nurtured in a secure environment where they can develop and fulfil their potential. We should always look towards best practice in child development.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

Does the junior Minister agree with others within his party and perhaps without that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice?

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

This issue has been raised on a number of occasions. It is not for me to determine what a person's sexual orientation is or how they arrived at it. It is for me, as an MLA and Minister, to recognise the innate dignity and human worth of all people. Regardless of a person's colour, religious belief, political opinion or sexual orientation, I will always advocate and stand for the human rights of that individual. In public policy, that is the stance that we will always take.