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UK Politics

'I didn't mean to insult Muslim community': Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson claims Islam comments 'were misinterpreted'

Peter Robinson insists remarks in support of pastor who compared Muslims to the IRA were "hyped up" and "given a meaning that was never intended"

Northern Ireland's first minister, Peter Robinson, has said he did not "want to insult" the Muslim community after he defended a pastor who branded Islam "evil" and "spawned in hell".

Mr Robinson, of the Democratic Unionist Party, said his remarks in support of James McConnell, an evangelical Protestant preacher, were "misinterpreted" and insisted he did not want "to insult or cause distress" to Muslims in Northern Ireland.

"A lot has been hyped up and doesn't accurately reflect what I said," he told the BBC. "I'd be very hurt if any Muslim was to think that I was being disrespectful or offensive, of course, that would never be my intention."

The controversy erupted earlier this week when he defended a series of remarks made by Pastor McConnell in an incendiary sermon where he claimed "Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell" and compared Muslims to the IRA.

On Wednesday, the First Minister told Irish News he wouldn't trust Muslims who were involved in "terrorist activities" or those "fully devoted to Sharia law" for spiritual advice, but would trust them to "go down the shops for me". He also said it is the "duty of any Christian preacher to denounce a false doctrine".

But today, Mr Robinson insisted that his comments were "given a meaning that was never intended" and reiterated his respect for the Muslim community.

Asked about this analogy, he added: "I took an outrageous suggestion to make it clear that it would be outrageous to say you wouldn't trust them to do anything."

However, Muslims in Northern Ireland have called on Mr Robinson to apologise for his comments, insisting his clarification did not go far enough.

"He made a bit clearer what he meant but we request more than what he said in the statement", Dr Raied Al-Wazzan, spokesman for the Belfast Islamic Centre, added, while welcoming the invitation to meet with Mr Robinson to discuss "how the Muslim community feels" about his remarks.

Yesterday, Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness, also called on the First Minister to show some "leadership" in promoting tolerance and respect.

He added: "There is a real need for all of us those in positions of responsibility to step out of our own political constituencies and religious groupings and show genuine political leadership for all."

In response, Mr Robinson tweeted he wouldn't "take lectures from a self-confessed leader of a bloody terrorist organisation".

The Equality Commission in Northern Ireland, which monitors compliance with equality legislation, also expressed concern about the pastor's sermon, which is now the subject of a police investigation into a possible hate crime.