A leading gay rights activist has accused Sinn Fein of turning the issue of LGBT rights in Northern Ireland into an “anti-unionist” issue.
Ulster Unionist councillor Jeff Dudgeon made the claim after a Sinn Fein motion earlier this week to fly the ‘rainbow flag’ at some council buildings in NI, to coincide with the Gay Pride parade on August 4.
The motion scraped through Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council last Monday night, despite opposition from some unionist councillors.
DUP councillors voted against the move, while Ulster Unionists abstained from the vote.
Mr Dudgeon – who led the battle in the 1970s and 80s to decriminalise homosexuality in Northern Ireland – has challenged Sinn Fein’s approach to LGBT rights, and warned: “There is a danger that the rights of the LGBT community could become part of Northern Ireland’s ethnic dispute.”
He claimed Sinn Fein had “no policy at all for decades” when it came to LGBT equality, adding: “This adherence to LGBT rights only came about in the last 10 or 15 years or so and they have now adopted it as an article of faith. They almost have taken a dogmatic interest in it.
“They are somewhat overzealous now to the point where they are making it into a bit of an anti-unionist issue.
“It has now reached the stage where it is becoming effectively anti-unionist more than pro-gay.”
Mr Dudgeon said Sinn Fein’s adherence to the issue of LGBT rights was becoming “a way of testing whether you are modern and anti-unionist”.
He added: “I don’t go in for that.
“The casualty in all this will be the LGBT community who are now being politicised when they don’t want to be.”
The Belfast councillor added that, given the IRA’s campaign of violence during the Troubles, “anything Sinn Fein says regarding human rights is deeply suspect”.
In response to Mr Dudgeon’s comments, a Sinn Fein spokesperson said the party has “a long tradition of campaigning for people’s rights over many decades”.
“That includes the rights of the LGBT+ community,” they added.
“We note that Jeff Dudgeon’s party leader recently said he will not allow unionism to become a by-word for intolerance.
“Therefore, rather than being transfixed with what Sinn Fein are doing, they should end their support for the denial of rights, including marriage equality, available to citizens elsewhere on these islands.”