Alliance Party General Secretary, Allan Leonard, has said the right to free speech is fundamental to democracy, stating that recent debate over apparent insults to Islam is equally applicable to disputes closer to home.
The Alliance South Belfast representative stated: “A Danish paper printed cartoons which are offensive to Muslims around the world, and this has sparked a wave of protests in the Middle East and Indonesia. Some of these have become violent. But does this mean the Western press will have to surrender their freedom to print what they wish?
“We hear a lot of discussion about ‘respecting diversity’. But that is a two-way process. Religious feelings deserve respect, but so does the right to criticise them. I disagree with many articles published in the press, indeed I find many of them offensive. But I defend their right to be published.
“This is not some issue distant from Northern Ireland, there are clear parallels at home too. The Irish President expressed views offensive to Northern Protestants two years ago. Individuals and even local councils have threatened protests if she comes to visit. Are they suggesting that the President has no right to express her views? Personally, I would be more inclined to show her the error of her views rather than engage in pathetic stand-offs.
“We should all take time to consider just how this outbreak of international fear and hatred refers directly to our own little part of the world. And we should consider whether we are really interested in accountable democracy, or merely protecting the interests of our own specific tribe.”