A DUP councillor has apologised for any hurt caused by a social media post he wrote apparently linking the coronavirus pandemic with the legalisation of abortion and same sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

John Carson, who represents Ballymena, Co Antrim, the former stronghold of ex-leader and Christian preacher the late Ian Paisley, has been criticised for his Facebook post.

The Rainbow Project, a Belfast-based LGBT support organisation, described it as “disgraceful but not at all surprising”.

Pro-choice campaigner Naomi Connor accused Mr Carson of “fundamentalist religious rhetoric”.

Peter Lynas, UK director of the Evangelical Alliance, said they were unhelpful comments and the media would “go to town” on them.

Mr Carson’s party strongly opposed Westminster legislation liberalising the law surrounding terminations, but his latest comments were made in a personal capacity.

In his original post he wrote: “I said when abortion was legalised that our nation would be judged by God because of its departure from his word and the legalisation of the murder of the unborn child as well as same-sex marriage.

“I was laughed at and mocked by some but as I said at the time, they laughed at Noah until the rain started.

Pro-choice rally
Pro-choice campaigners have welcomed the changes to legalise abortion (PA)

“You reap what you sow and our nation is now reaping the judgment of God because of an immoral and corrupt Government.

“It is time to repent and turn again to the God of our fathers.”

On Thursday, Mr Carson wrote: “Folks yesterday afternoon l put a post on Facebook which was taken by some and totally misinterpreted, anyone who knows me will know that l would not intentionally set out to cause hurt or offence to anyone and if l did then for that l humbly apologise.

“However l will never apologise for my Christian faith and will not be silenced by those that are opposed to the truth of God’s word.”

The DUP has distanced itself from the comments.

DUP economy minister Diane Dodds described them as “a bit of a distraction”.

She said they did not reflect the views of the DUP and said party officers are likely to examine potential disciplinary action.

“They do not reflect the views of the vast majority of people,” she said.

“They are a bit of a distraction from what we all need to do… which is a very, very serious challenge of fighting against Covid-19.

“I think we should place on record our thanks to the churches and to those people who have faith for all that they have done as well in reaching out to the lonely, in reaching out to those who are isolated, in working in food banks.

“I believe that we have a God of love and mercy.

“And I think that’s where most people will take comfort.

“And I think that all faith communities in Northern Ireland have been working incredibly hard in challenging and very, very difficult circumstances.”

In regard to potential disciplinary action against Mr Carson, Mrs Dodds added: “I’m presuming it will go to party officers – it certainly does not reflect the views of the DUP.”

Earlier this week, a senior DUP member claimed Northern Ireland has introduced the most extreme abortion laws in Europe.

Westminster MPs passed provisions on terminations last year in the absence of the powersharing Assembly.

The regulations will allow terminations on request for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and up to 24 weeks in the case of a risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or girl.

Abortion will also be available in cases of severe and fatal foetal anomalies, with no gestational limit.

Campaigners have claimed many barriers still exist to terminations after 12 weeks, and they have called for greater use of telemedicine to provide pills, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Rainbow Project, a Belfast-based LGBT support organisation, said: “It is disgraceful but not at all surprising that a DUP elected member would try to blame LGBT people and our partners in the women’s movement for the coronavirus outbreak, just as they have blamed us for Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters in the past.”

The statement said the group is supporting its communities at a difficult time.

The organisation added: “We look forward to hearing from Arlene Foster a strong denunciation of this disgusting slur from her councillor John Carson.”

Mr Carson is a member of the Royal British Legion and a strong supporter of veterans, according to Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s website.

He is also part of the Orange Order.

The councillor works to help the elderly age well, build sustainable communities and sits on policing scrutiny and military reservist organisations.

Mr Lynas said they were unhelpful comments and the media would “go to town” on them.

“The church response is one of compassion, practical needs like food banks, lament, hope and prayer.”

Ms Connor said many people of faith supported the change in abortion law.

She said: “Mr Carson not only offends same-sex couples and those of us who have had or will need abortions, he does a disservice to people of faith.

“We are sick of fundamentalist religious rhetoric barring our rights.”