MLA confronts academic over 'gay suicides' email

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This video is in two parts due to its length. The first part can be viewed here.

A DUP MLA confronted a Queen's University academic over comments made in an email concerning the party's views on sexuality, on 30 January 2014.

Jim Wells quoted from the email sent by Dr Graham Ellison to a Swedish lawyer, Gunilla Ekberg, after she gave evidence to the Justice Committee on the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill.

"Who knows how many gays and lesbian young people in Northern Ireland have committed suicide because of this bloody party?" Mr Wells quoted from the email.

Dr Ellison accepted that he had written the email.

"I felt that some of the issues that she and I were in sympathy with. I just wanted to clarify that," he said.

Mr Wells told Dr Ellison that the email had been forwarded to Queen's University as part of a formal complaint against him.

Committee chairman Paul Givan, also of the DUP, asked Dr Ellison: "How many people am I responsible for killing?"

He replied that many young gay and lesbian people in Northern Ireland had committed suicide because of issues around their sexuality "and your party is firmly opposed to those".

Earlier in the session, Dr Ellison had argued against the criminalisation of paying for sex, a measure contained in the bill.

He said he was researching prostitution in four European cities and that there were "a number of issues in the bill that are oversimplified".

He argued that circumstances varied between countries and cities.

"We need a local policy framework," Dr Ellison said.

He said the "Swedish model" had been "wheeled out and held up as a panacea" but this was a "red herring" because "Northern Ireland is not Sweden".

"With or without this bill the selling of sex will exist and will continue to exist," he concluded.

Speaking after the discussion of the email, Raymond McCartney of Sinn Fein said Dr Ellison would now have an idea what the Spanish Inquisition was like.

"I think you have put together a very cogent argument," he said.

Rachel Moran of Space International (Survivors of Prostitution-Abuse Calling for Enlightenment) said the group she represented was committed to the abolition of the sex trade.

She said countries were taking sides on the question of abolition or legalisation and "there is no middle ground".

Ms Moran criticised the decision taken in New Zealand to legalise prostitution.

She said that if it represented a utopia for anyone it was only for the customers and the pimps and that "many of New Zealand's citizens have had enough of it".

Ms Moran described prostitution as "a highly-gendered form of oppression" and spoke of "the fight to be recognised as fully human".

Raymond McCartney asked about the view that criminalising the buying of sex in some countries "has made it move underground".

Ms Moran said the Swedish police "consistently say that the sex trafficking trade is down massively".

The DUP's Sydney Anderson asked about prostitution and drug addiction.

In the escort agencies "most of us were cocaine addicts", she replied.

Representatives of the ICTU (Irish Congress of Trade Unions) welcomed the trafficking bill.

Clare Moore of the ICTU said this included clause six, which would criminalise payment for sexual services.

Lucy Smith of Uglymugs.ie explained that her website was designed to improve the safety of sex workers in Ireland.

She described it as "a great community of sex workers", and that it recorded both crimes and other incidents.

Jim Wells criticised Uglymugs.ie saying it was connected to an escort website.

Amnesty International also gave evidence to the committee on the trafficking bill.

Grainne Teggart from the organisation called for deeper and wider reflection on the clause of the bill outlawing paying for sex.

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