Cllr John Finlay.
BALLYMONEY DUP Councillor John Finlay has weighed into the gay rights debate claiming that DUP icon and former party leader the late Dr Ian Paisley, “must be turning in his grave” at the party's first openly gay councillor.
He was referring to party colleague Cllr Alison Bennington who was elected to Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council in Glengormley DEA in the May 2 election.
A leaked letter to the party officers has been published in full by journalist Patricia Devlin, with a daily newspaper also running extracts as well.
In the letter, which was sent prior to last week’s council election, Cllr Finlay said that the party's decision to run Ms Bennington was “foolish” and sent “confusing signals to our support base which has consistently welcomed our strong stand on LGBT issues”.
Last June Cllr Finlay made headlines when he wrote an open letter to Arlene Foster blasting her attendance at a Sunday GAA final in Clones county Monaghan.
He was rebuked in The Chronicle by a fellow Ballymoney DUP councillor, not for his opinions, but for going public with the letter prior to Mrs Foster and the party officers getting a change to discuss its contents.
This time Cllr Finlay's efforts to follow party processes have not gone to plan.
Speaking to The Chronicle Cllr Finlay is adamant that this was a private letter sent to party officers and a few trusted friends and was not leaked by him.
Cllr Finlay himself, Chairman of North Antrim DUP, was re-elected in the Ballymoney DEA with an increased vote.
In the letter he said he wanted to “place on record my deep concern about the decision to select an openly gay candidate” and said he was “very upset” at how Ms Bennington had been chosen “as many within the party were totally unaware of it until it was announced at the launch of the local government manifesto, where she was given a prominent role”.
Councillor Finlay was himself He went on: “The candidate in question, Ms Alison Bennington, is openly gay. She has, apparently, previously indicated that she is in favour of same-sex marriage through a post on her Facebook page.
“This sends out, at best, confusing signals to our support base which has consistently welcomed our strong stand on LGBT issues ... but that support is clearly now being placed in jeopardy by the foolish decision in select Alison Bennington.”
Mr Finlay said that it seemed clear to him “that we will lose votes on May 2 as a result of the Bennington decision” and that “our traditional support base cannot be taken for granted”. He added: “I can feel the palpable sense of anger on the doorsteps and in various messages I have been receiving.”
This prediction does not appear to have come to pass as last week Ms Bennington was elected as a DUP councillor, gaining over a 1000 votes, with the party itself consolidating its vote, mostly at the expense of the TUV.
In his letter Cllr Finlay continued: "I am “particularly disappointed that party officers who are committed Christians have either supported Ms Bennington’s candidature or remained ominously silent”.
Mr Finlay concluded by saying: “I accept that society’s morals are changing, but not for the better, and we need to be prepared to continue to swim against the secular and godless tide. That has always been the DUP’s strength, and we compromise on these matters at our peril. Dr Paisley must be turning in his grave.”
Describing the letter as “self explanatory” Cllr Finlay told the Chronicle: “this was a private letter sent to the party officers and to some trusted friends; someone leaked it.” He added that he had no further comment to make on the matter.