Foster’s attendance at LGBT event welcomed as ‘a small but significant step towards equality’

John Blair, Alliance.
John Blair, Alliance.

Northern Ireland’s first openly gay MLA has described DUP leader Arlene Foster’s attendance at an LGBT event as “a small but significant step towards equality for all our people”.

John Blair, who will officially take over the Alliance Party’s South Antrim seat from David Ford next week, was among the guests at the PinkNews summer reception at Stormont yesterday evening.

The celebration of LGBT activism heard Mrs Foster, whose party has used the petition of concern mechanism to stop marriage equality legislation from being passed by the Assembly, deliver a speech which stressed the need to respect diversity across society while defending her stance against same-sex marriage. (Read more here)

Reacting to Mrs Foster’s appearance at the event, Mr Blair said: “Some of us were hopeful that she might have said a little bit more, but I think by being here she has indicated that she is willing to have conversations going forward. I and many others in the LGBT sector are willing to engage positively in those conversations.”

The 52-year-old said the petition of concern mechanism has been “exploited” in the past “to deny the rights and entitlements to people in Northern Ireland that can be enjoyed by their neighbours in GB and the rest of the island of Ireland.”

Commenting on the prospect of the issue coming back before MLAs if the Assembly gets up and running again, he continued: “I would be hopeful and will do whatever I can with my colleagues to bring pressure on the DUP not to deploy that petition of concern.”

Mr Blair, who is giving up his seat on Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council to join his party’s Assembly team, added: “Let us look forward. A gesture was made tonight. It is only a gesture at this stage. It’s a small but significant step towards equality for all our people. Let’s build on what’s happened, let’s have the conversations and let’s move things forward.”