Alliance to tip council in favour of Pope visit to Belfast
A proposal to invite the Pope to Belfast for the first time is expected to be voted through – despite unionist opposition.
Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers warned against the move last week, because of the "mistrust, hatred and unrest" in the city.
The vote is likely to go through anyway because the Alliance Party – which holds the balance of power on the council – has indicated that its representatives will vote in favour.
SDLP councillor Pat McCarthy proposed extending the invite to Pope Francis if the pontiff accepts an invite issued by the Irish Seanad in February to visit the Republic.
Mr McCarthy has also called on Stormont to invite the Pope to visit the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Last night the DUP said it will not decide how its members will vote on the matter until just before the meeting this evening.
Ulster Unionist group leader David Browne said his party will not be dictating how members should vote – although none of its three councillors have said they will vote for the proposal.
Mr Browne said it will be up to individuals to decide how they want to vote.
He admitted that he will not be there for the vote itself as it will come at the end of the meeting.
He explained he tends to leave meetings before the council discusses Notices of Motion – the last items of business discussed – because of his ill health.
Ulster Unionist Jim Rodgers stated his opposition to inviting the Pope to City Hall last week.
Last night he told the Belfast Telegraph that he will decide how to vote, along with the third Ulster Unionist member Bob Stoker this evening, just before the meeting takes place.
Mr Stoker added that given the current climate in the city, it would be "highly unlikely" that he will be voting for it.
Sinn Fein has indicated its members will vote in favour of the motion.
Group leader Jim McVeigh said his party has an "open house approach to all the faiths".
Mr McCarthy welcomed the support for his motion and said he hopes that no one will oppose it at the meeting tonight.
"If we want to truly have a shared society, we need to move forward and show respect for each other," he said.
There has been no papal visit to Ireland since 1979 when Pope John Paul II came to Dublin. In February, the Irish Seanad voted unanimously to invite Pope Francis to Ireland. Now SDLP councillor Pat McCarthy has proposed that if this visit goes ahead, the pontiff should be invited to Belfast City Hall and Stormont. Belfast City Council will vote on this tonight.