Controversial Belfast psychiatrist, Dr. Paul Miller, recently sanctioned by the General Medical Council, is a member of the Board of Reference of Core Issues, the controversial Lisburn-based counselling and advocacy organisation which teaches that homosexual practise is sinful and has been associated with controversial techniques including claims to be able to change sexual orientation in certain circumstances.
The sanctioning of Miller may prove particularly controversial as Core Issues’ Board of Reference is stated on the organisation’s website to be an “accountability link” in the context of how its counselling is regulated and approved.
Core Issues is organising a conference in East Belfast’s Orangefield Presbyterian Church this Friday and Saturday entitled “The Lepers Among Us – Homosexuality and the Life of the Church”. Miller is listed as a member of Core Issues Board of Reference in the brochure advertising this weekend’s conference on the organisation’s website. A coalition of LGBTI rights organisations in Belfast is organising a picket of the Friday morning session of the event.
Although, in recent press releases, CORE has claimed that, “Core Issues Trust does not offer so-called “Reparative‟ or „Conversion‟ therapy” (sic), its website states that “[s]upporting sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) should be a possibility”.
Therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation has been repudiated by virtually every reputable psychiatric organisation in the UK, Ireland and across the world. Recently the President of Exodus International, the world’s largest so-called ‘ex-gay’ organisation, and hitherto a staunch defender of attempts to change sexual orientation, stated that “99.9 percent” of those undergoing such therapy “have not experienced a change in their orientation”.
Dr Paul Miller has been linked with efforts to change sexual orientation. In June 2008, Iris Robinson claimed on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show, that a ‘lovely psychiatrist’ friend of hers could turn gays “from what they are engaged in”. Dr. Miller, the psychiatrist referred to, was then a consultant in the Mater Hospital, an NHS hospital in Belfast. He has since left to work in the private sector full time.
In today’s Irish News, journalist Seanín Graham revealed that Miller faced a private hearing of the General Medical Council last week at which eight conditions were imposed on his ability to practise. These include that, for a period of 18 months, his day-to-day work must be supervised by a registered doctor of consultant grade and restrictions on working abroad.
Seanín Graham also wrote:
Two years ago, a London-based journalist, Patrick Strudwick, reported Dr Miller to the GMC after going undercover for the treatment.
Mr Strudwick, who is gay, described the Belfast doctor’s therapies as “disturbing” following two sessions via a webcam.
“I felt disgusted and abused by his inappropriate sexual remarks during the sessions. To hear this from a psychiatrist during a session, it was like being sexually assaulted,” Mr Strudwick said in 2010.
A GMC spokeswoman refused to comment on whether Mr Strudwick’s complaint resulted in the conditions being placed on Dr Miller’s licence, or if there had been additional complaints from the public.
Core Issues has clearly been shaken by the continual stream of negative publicity in Northern Ireland since its event held at Belvoir Church of Ireland Parish Church in summer 2011 was subject to picketing and adverse media reaction. Recent statements by the organisation seem to indicate a softening of their previously stonewall stance on gay issues in the church.
The step away from reparative therapy, noted above, is not a unique example of a softening in position by Core Issues. For example, the Core Issues website, drafted some years ago, studiously avoids saying the phrase ‘gay Christian’ or clearly stating that it is possible to be gay or gay affirming and a Christian. Instead they used circumlocutions such as “many people who are religious find homosexual practise quite consistent with their religious or spiritual values” and claimed that gay-affirming Christians “value the traditions of their forefathers in faith less than orthodox folk”. The most recent press statement however “acknowledges that Christians have different understandings of the teachings on the bible around human sexuality”, which seems to open a possibility of Core Issues affirming faithful and monogamous same-sex relationships in the future.
The publicity around Core Issues comes at the start of a period in which gay rights issues are likely to catapult to the top of both the religious and political agendas in Northern Ireland. The Anglican Church of Ireland, adhered to by around 15% of Northern Ireland’s people, will have a major conference on homosexuality in March before possibly legislating on the issue at its annual General Synod in May. MPs at Westminster will vote on legalising same-sex marriage in England during the lifetime of the current parliament. The measure is expected to pass overwhelmingly, and although it will affect England only, Northern Ireland MPs will have a vote. Scotland and Wales are also planning to introduce same-sex marriage in the near future, and the Republic of Ireland may well also do so before the current government’s mandate expires in 2016.
It is unlikely that Northern Ireland will follow suit immediately, as the complex architecture of its post-conflict political settlement effectively gives a veto on legislation to the populist-right DUP, strongly influenced by Evangelical Protestantism. Even if a coalition of radical left Sinn Féin, the social-democratic SDLP, the liberal Alliance Party and the moderate wing of the conservative UUP garnered a majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the DUP have sufficient blocking votes for contentious legislation, which can be defined by them. However, Northern Ireland is still likely to come under enormous pressure from governments in other parts of the British Isles, and from the courts, to recognise same-sex marriages contracted elsewhere. When the Republic of Ireland legalises same-sex marriage, the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement may open the door to legal challenges to a refusal to permit same-sex marriages to take place in the region.