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

John Carson represents Ballymena on Mid and East Antrim Council, which was the former stronghold of ex-leader and Christian preacher the late Ian Paisley.

His party strongly opposed Westminster legislation liberalising the lawsurrounding terminations, but his latest comments were made in a personalcapacity.

Mr Carson said: "I said when abortion was legalised that our nation would bejudged 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.

"You reap what you sow and our nation is now reaping the judgment of Godbecause of an immoral and corrupt Government.

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

The DUP has distanced itself from the comments, adding it does not represent the views of the party.

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 arelikely to examine potential disciplinary action.

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

Earlier this week, a senior party member claimed Northern Ireland hasintroduced the most extreme abortion laws in Europe.

Abortion legislation in Northern Ireland was brought into line with the rest of the UK in a key Westminster vote in 2019 Credit: UTV

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 ofpregnancy 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 12weeks, and they have called for greater use of tele-medicine to provide pills,particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"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 Rainbow Project

The organisation added: "We look forward to hearing from Arlene Foster astrong denunciation of this disgusting slur from her councillor John Carson."

Mr Carson is a member of the Royal British Legion and a strong supporter ofveterans, 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 sustainablecommunities and sits on policing scrutiny and military reservist organisations.

Peter Lynas, UK director of the Evangelical Alliance, 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."