On Tuesday evening, Peter Robinson made a public apology for the offence he had caused to Muslims. This came one week after an interview with the Irish News in which he said he would not trust Muslims involved in violence or those devoted to Sharia law. He also said he would “trust them to go to the shops” for him “and bring back the correct change”.
While the new Chair of Fermanagh District Council Bert Johnston feels that there was no need for Mr. Robinson to apologise, other locals felt a mixture of “utter shock”, despondency and concern about Northern Ireland’s reputation in terms of attracting Middle Eastern investment.
Fr. Brian D’Arcy: Rector of the Graan Monastery.
“My initial reaction when I heard Pastor Mc Connell’s remarks about all Muslims was one of utter shock. We are long past the era of tolerating such attitudes.
“I am sure he is a good man, but on this matter he is utterly at odds with Christianity, decency and indeed common sense.
When I then heard Peter Robinson making a defence of the Pastor, I was convinced that he would have to resign. If he were leader of any other country he would have been forced out of office. It is simply not defensible for a political leader of a country to condemn valuable and productive citizens in a most unfair and abusive way.
There are questions about everyone involved in violence not just Muslims.
There are difficulties with Sharia Law but we have to understand its origins and culture and also to try to change what is abhorrent to modern society in a rational way.
Mr. Robinson has apologised to the Muslim community and they seem keen to put the issue to bed.
Unquestionably it has damaged Northern Ireland’s image abroad, though we do that repeatedly with senseless violence here at home.
We must learn to communicate in a respectful way and we must acknowledge and cherish difference.”
Darragh Monahan: An English teacher in Bolton, originally from Brookeborough. He converted from Christianity to Islam 10 years ago.
“Upon hearing of the First Minister’s comments, my first reaction was: ‘Typical’. I was personally offended by the complete ignorance in his words and that he could so carelessly tar a whole religious community of diverse ethnic backgrounds with the same old tired brush.
In the Northern Ireland context it is probably less surprising because of the unique focus on identity here: you either belong to one ‘Christianity’ or another. Due to many feeling distant from ‘religion’ because of the Northern Irish conflict, few wish to truly gain an understanding of reality beyond their comfort zone.
Whilst a fear of the idea that some Muslims are ready to resort to violence is understandable, what is most angering is how extremism is assumed to be synonymous with the word ‘Sharia’ – a not unusual yet totally fallacious connection. Sharia in Arabic literally means ‘way’.
One positive effect of his ill-judged comments could be that the true, honest, hard-working folk of Northern Ireland might become more interested in learning about Islam. For any that do, I am confident that they will be pleasantly surprised.”
Michael Skuce: Former District Commander for F District and current Chairman of Derrygonnelly Partnership.
“I felt that Pastor McConnell was really out of his depth. I can’t understand why the First Minister got involved.
It is reflecting badly on Northern Ireland as it has been on news channels across the UK and the world.
Turkish Airlines were in Belfast last week looking at the potential of operating routes from Belfast to Istanbul. Istanbul is a major hub to the Middle East and this would be a fantastic opportunity for Northern Ireland. In addition, Invest NI is planning a Trade Mission to Turkey in September 2014. Turkey is 98 per cent Muslim and this week’s comments are bound to have a negative effect. The Muslim community in Northern Ireland have been magnanimous in accepting Mr. Robinson’s apology and I think it’s time to move on. But I do think that it is important to learn a lesson from this; that we need to be careful about what we say and how we say it.”
Anita Mukherjee: Founder and Chair of Women of the World.
“There has been a sense of deep disappointment and hurt among Muslims and the entire ethnic minority community in Fermanagh. The whole episode was very unfortunate, especially in this day and age.
We want a modern and progressive society and comments like that can bring us back in time. Ethnic minorities contribute to the economy and social infrastructure of post-conflict Northern Ireland and it’s important that potential investors are not put off from coming here.
Today it’s Muslims, tomorrow it could be Hindus. We need a zero tolerance approach to any kind of hate crime.”