An MLA has told the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland that its court action against a Christian bakery is “essentially bullying”.
Speaking during a Stormont committee meeting, Jimmy Spratt said the watchdog is wasting taxpayers’ money in pursuing the case.
He said afterwards: “I told the Equality Commission that they were essentially bullying a small business and threatening the sustainability of the company.
Out of step
“This was verging on persecution and not a good use of public funds. The Equality Commission is an independent body but it must acknowledge that it is out of step with public opinion as it seeks to challenge Ashers in court.”
MLAs cross-examined the Commission during a hearing of the Committee of the Office of First and Deputy First Minister, in which it was required to account for its annual spending.
Fellow DUP MLA Stephen Moutray said the Commission ought to be “ashamed”, and said if it was a “David and Goliath situation”, he hoped David would “come out top”.
In response, Chief Commissioner Michael Wardlow said public opinion does not need to be taken into consideration.
“Of course we listen to what the public say, but that isn’t the thing that determines whether a case is right or wrong”, he commented.
The Commission served papers on the McArthur family, who own and run Ashers Baking Company, after they declined to produce a pro-gay marriage campaign cake earlier this year.
Hundreds of people have signed a petition against the Commission’s actions, which was launched last week by MPs William McCrea, Nigel Dodds and Sammy Wilson.
The petition reads: “We the undersigned express our concern at the use of public funds by the Equality Commission to pursue a prosecution against Ashers Bakery because of their refusal to promote gay marriage.
“We note that Ashers Bakery are not guilty of discrimination, they have not refused to sell their products to anybody on the basis of their sexual orientation nor have discriminated in any other way.”