Peter Robinson Islam row: Doctors may quit health service

Posted By: May 30, 2014

Fears over NHS workers and foreign investment as bid to defuse row fails

BY LIAM CLARKE . Belfast Telegraph. Friday,  MAY 30,  2014

One of Northern Ireland’s most senior surgeons has warned that Muslim doctors may leave the health service here as the row over Peter Robinson’s comments about Islam deepens.

And as anger grows over his remarks, another senior Muslim medic called on the First Minister to resign because of the hurt he has caused.

Mr Robinson sparked fury after he said he would not trust Muslims for spiritual advice but would trust them to go to the shop.

Yesterday the DUP leader tried to defuse the row by saying he did not intend to cause any offence and last night he met representatives of the Belfast Islamic Centre.

A DUP statement said: “Mr Robinson outlined his views and made it clear that there was never any intention on his part to offend or cause distress to anyone. He said that if anyone interpreted his remarks in that way that he would apologise to them.”

But anger is growing among members of the Muslim community who perform vital work in the health service here.

They have said that Mr Robinson and other members of his party must distance themselves from controversial remarks made last week by Pastor James McConnell who said he did not trust any Muslims.

Dr Khalid Khan, a plastic surgeon who worked with victims of the Omagh bombing, said he was concerned that Pastor McConnell said he had the support of Peter Robinson and Health Minister Edwin Poots.

He said: “Some other Pakistani health workers I have talked to are even more upset. Our biggest worry is that our Health Minister is a follower of that pastor. He needs to say that there has been a misunderstanding and he does trust Muslims. He should remember that we perform a lot of key functions in the health service and some of us may leave.”

Mr Khan’s daughter Enya, who was born in Belfast and is studying medicine in England, says she does not now think she will ever return here to work.

Another senior Muslim medic contacted the Belfast Telegraph to say that only Mr Robinson’s resignation would clear the air now.

Samina Dornan, a consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician at the Royal Victoria Hospital, is of Persian and Afghan origin but has lived most of her life in Ireland.

“I don’t do religion but it doesn’t mean I don’t respect people’s faith and so should senior politicians,” said Mrs Dornan, who is the stepmother of the actor Jamie Dornan and the wife of Professor Jim Dornan.

She said she was more concerned for Northern Ireland’s image than offended as a Muslim.

“I love living here, I am so proud to be here but I have never been so embarrassed in my life to be from Northern Ireland.” she said. “I am getting phone calls from my friends in Pakistan, America, South Africa and England asking what is going on in this country. I feel ashamed to the core and he should resign. That is all I want to say.”

There are signs that, unless he can retrieve the situation, Mr Robinson’s comments could also impact on investment from the Muslim world.

Yvonne Ridley, a well-known English journalist who was kidnapped by the Taliban and later converted to Islam, is currently on a speaking tour of Muslim countries as vice-president of the International Muslim Women’s Union for Western Europe and is using the comments of Pastor McConnell and Mr Robinson as case studies in Islamophobia.

Last night she spoke in Qatar, a major target for Invest Northern Ireland, where Mr Robinson has led a trade mission.

“How on earth can he [Peter Robinson] be expected to extend the hand of friendship, hospitality or the corporate branch of government when meeting leaders from the Muslim world?” she asked. “If he was heading a public company he would have been forced to quit by now as part of a quick damage-limitation exercise by outraged shareholders.”

She rejected his statement of clarification, in which he said his comments had been taken out of context. She said: “Mr Robinson is going to have to eat a whole load more humble pie before Muslims can trust him again.”