Matter of the day – Mass Shooting in Orlando

Transcript from the Offiicial Report (Hansard)

Mr Speaker: Mr Nesbitt has been given leave to make a statement on the mass shooting in Orlando, which fulfils the criteria set out in Standing Order 24. If other Members wish to be called, they should rise in their place and continue to do so. All Members called will have up to three minutes to speak on the subject. I remind Members that I shall not take any points of order on this or any other matter until the item of business has finished.

Mr Nesbitt: We return to the House after the weekend, which is a time traditionally set aside for us to pursue our passions and our lifestyle choices, whether it be the arts, culture, religion, sport or recreation. I wish I could be standing here congratulating Rory Best and the Irish rugby team on their phenomenal success in South Africa at the weekend or welcoming Northern Ireland’s return to the finals of a major football tournament, although that has been overshadowed not just by the result but by the tragic death of Darren Rodgers, which we will hear about in greater detail in a moment.

As somebody who has lost a friend on a holiday in continental Europe, I have some understanding of the shock of such a sudden loss and of realising that somebody you thought was going to be in your life forever is no longer in your life at all. That feeling is being replicated in the United States in no fewer than 50 families because of the attack in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where a single gunman killed 50 people and injured 53, some of whom, as we speak, are fighting for their lives. It was described by President Obama as:

“an act of terror and an act of hate.”

Those are two things we know about only too well in this country. I am very struck by the quote attributed to the gunman’s father, who said that his son had become “very angry” when he saw two men kissing. What a way to express your anger. Fifty people are dead. What a lesson to us all about intolerance in our society and how we must not permit it to infect how we think.

We have our own special relationship, I think, in Northern Ireland with the United States. It is a history that goes back centuries. Many of our citizens holiday in Florida, many Floridians and Americans holiday here and, of course, many Americans invest in Northern Ireland. We have a lot at stake in our relationship with the United States. I would like to, with your permission, Mr Speaker, ask you to write to President Obama on behalf of the Assembly and the House to express not only our shock but our solidarity with all the people of the United States at this shocking and tragic time.

Mr Clarke: It has been a very painful weekend for the families of those involved. My heartfelt apologies go to those families. I thought about them over the weekend. As the previous Member has said, similar events have happened, albeit not in the same numbers, on our shores here in Northern Ireland. It was not right here, it has never been right and it has proven never to be right. There is nothing we can do, in terms of words of comfort we can give to the families of those people who were brutally murdered at the weekend, other than give them prayerful support. I suggest that Members keep them, and their families, in their prayers over the coming days and weeks ahead.

Mr Lynch: I want to express my shock and horror at the multiple deaths and 53 injuries. My heartfelt condolences go to the family, and also on behalf of my party. These people were targeted simply because they were gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT). This attack has brought into sharp focus the fact that, despite moves towards equality, LGBT people in the West have massive issues. The perpetrator of this murderous event was not born homophobic — he was taught it. We as political leaders — I agree with much of what Members have said — must stand together on this issue and face down homophobic behaviour. We must send out a message to people at every level that human beings are valued as equal.

The fact that people cannot live and get married here is a problem. That is wrong. We need to change the law so that all citizens are treated equally.

Mr Eastwood: I thank Mr Nesbitt for bringing this matter of the day to the House. It is extremely important that we stand with people all across the world in revulsion at what has happened in Orlando. It is shocking that so many people could be gunned down in such a way, and even more shocking that so much hatred can reside within one person. We have seen this type of hatred acted out against our gay community right across the world. I think of places like Uganda, and other parts of the world, where gay people are not treated the way they should be. It is not for me, or for us, to talk about the internal laws of the United States, but it is important that our friends in the US hear that we cannot understand how anybody can get their hands on automatic weapons and use them in this way. I think it is important to make this point.

It is also important that we not meet hate with hate: that we meet it with love and we do not give succour to the base instinct that has been so prevalent within US politics in recent times. All of us need to show minorities in our community that they play a full and equal part in our everyday lives. We here, and right cross the world, need to ensure that the gay community feel equal and full citizens. We have to do everything we can, and change whatever law we have to change, to make sure that happens.

Mrs Long: I would like to associate myself with the comments that have been made by others, and to thank Mike Nesbitt for bringing this matter to the House. I think anyone who has read and heard the horror of the last moments of those who died, or were injured, in the Pulse nightclub could not fail to be moved. This was a horrendous, brutal and profoundly homophobic terrorist attack, and it should be condemned by all right-thinking people. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and the friends of those who have been murdered. They are also with those who have been injured, and also with the LGBT community more widely. We should be under no illusion that gay clubs are not only places for fun and enjoyment, they are also safe spaces for members of our community who often feel afraid, intimidated, threatened and ostracised.

When such spaces are violated in that way, the ripples of fear are much wider than in the immediate vicinity. Fear ripples out among the gay community right across the globe. I stand in solidarity not just with those in Orlando and the United States but with those globally who are persecuted for their sexuality.

It is vital that the attack be properly investigated, and, whatever the warped motivation of the individual who launched it, it is important that what we replace that homophobia with is not another form of bigotry and that we keep our remarks temperate. Our response must be to stand against homophobia, terrorism and violence of any kind. Our response must be to stand for the values of an open, liberal and tolerant democracy and to redouble our efforts to build that here at home and abroad. That will be the best tribute to those who lost their lives in this horrendous attack.

Mr Allister: I join the condemnation of the horrendous attack. Yet again, the Western World has been demonstrated to be so vulnerable to Islamist terrorism. That is what it was, and those who seek to cloak it as otherwise do the Western World no service. It is quite clear that, in our society, there are those who have come to live amongst us who share no values, no common cause of interest and no respect for the sanctity of human life, and who are prepared, be it a perverted view or otherwise of their cause, to visit the most horrendous terror on society. It needs to be called out for what it is and condemned for what it is.

We in the West are particularly vulnerable now to these sleeper terrorists of Islamic persuasion who are visiting the horrors of their viewpoint on us. I condemn that, and I think of and pray for those who have been so suddenly bereaved by that horror. Just as we in this Province have lived through the horrors of terrorism, be it Greysteel, La Mon, Kingsmills or anywhere else, so we know the vile cruelty of terrorism that comes without justification in any cause.

Mr E McCann: I, of course, associate myself with the remarks that have been made so far regarding the horror and distress that we all will have felt at the news from Florida last night. That terrible atrocity is a reminder that, despite all the social advances and changes in the legislative framework over recent years in this part of the world, although we have not completed the journey yet, and all around the world, LGBT people still face hatred and violence. Uganda has been mentioned, and anyone who looks at the background to the treatment of LGBT people in Uganda and the killings there will be aware of the extent of the problem not just in the United States but elsewhere.

I welcome the statement that was made last night by LGBT Against Islamophobia, an international organisation, in which it appealed to people not to allow the atrocity to be used to whip up hatred against any section of the community and, in particular, not to allow it to be used to intensify the Islamophobia that is being spread in the United States, including by very powerful people. I regard it as ominous that one of the presumptive presidential candidates in the United States last night issued a statement announcing that he will be expressing his forthright views in a major speech on Orlando tonight. We wait to hear what he has to say, but it would be foolish of any of us to imagine that the atrocity will not be used for nefarious purposes by people who are peddlers of hate to exactly the same extent as the Islamic fundamentalist ideologues who are behind the thinking of those who perpetrated the atrocity are.

It is also relevant to mention the fact, given that reference has been made to people from other cultures coming here, that the presumed perpetrator of the Orlando atrocity was American born. He did not come from anywhere but the local neighbourhood. We should keep in mind that Western forces do not simply come among people of Muslim lands but have actually come above them in drones or in aeroplanes and have been massacring — massacring — thousands of Muslims over recent years. That is not in any way, not by one iota or a sliver of 1%, a justification for what happened in Orlando but it is part of the context in which we could understand it. We should be against all hatred and killing, no matter where it comes from.

Mr Speaker: I ask the Member to —

Mr E McCann: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.