Northern Ireland: Amnesty response to comments by First Minister re anti-Islam sermon

Responding to comments made by Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson regarding a sermon by Pastor James McConnell, which contained strong anti-Islam sentiments, Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International, said:

“The right to freedom of expression is protected by law in Northern Ireland.

“But freedom of expression is not absolute and may be subject to certain restrictions to ensure that it does not conflict with the rights of others, such as the right to be free from discrimination.

“Under Northern Ireland's 1987 Public Order law, there is a prohibition on inciting hatred or arousing fear on the grounds of race, colour, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, religion or national or ethnic origin.

“Whether or not Pastor McConnell's sermon crosses the line from freedom of expression to advocacy of hatred is now a matter for the police and perhaps, ultimately, the courts.

“What is clear is that amid a rising tide of racist attacks and other hate crimes in Northern Ireland, religious and ethnic minorities deserve much better leadership than they appear to be getting right now from the First Minister.

“Governments are obliged to combat negative stereotypes of, and discrimination against, individuals and communities on the basis of their nationality, ethnicity, religion or belief. As head of the Northern Ireland government, the First Minister had an opportunity do just that. He blew it.”