Belfast invite for Pope Francis a bad idea because of 'mistrust, hatred and unrest' in the city
A unionist councillor has said Belfast is not the proper place for a visit from Pope Francis given the "mistrust, hatred and unrest" in the city.
Outspoken UUP councillor Jim Rodgers accused the SDLP's Pat McCarthy of electioneering after he proposed an invitation to the Pope to travel north of the border if he pays a visit to the Republic.
Councillors are expected to debate a motion on this at next week's meeting at Belfast City Hall.
Mr McCarthy said a visit from Pope Francis could help send out a positive message, but Mr Rodgers was far from convinced.
The veteran councillor said he believed such invites should really be a matter for Westminster or the Dail. He is also concerned a visit from the Pope to Belfast could generate protests and put pressure on the PSNI. "I am not anti-Pope," the councillor said.
"Looking at recent events there is such mistrust, hatred and unrest. I don't think it is a good idea.
"I think the SDLP is electioneering ahead of the European and council elections.
"I've been aware for some considerable time there has been talk of the Pope going down south, the south of Ireland, but also Northern Ireland. Armagh has been talked about. Belfast is not the proper location for it.
"A few people from Belfast, from both sides of the community and of no religion, have spoken to me about it.
"Some think it's a great idea, some are unhappy and some are unsure."
But Mr McCarthy said cross-party support for a papal visit would be a boost for the region.
He said: "A papal visit to Belfast, endorsed by everyone, would send out a strong message to the rest of the world about how we are progressing, especially after the failure of the Haass talks."
"This council notes that the Irish Seanad, on February 19, unanimously passed a motion by senator David Norris, inviting Pope Francis to visit Ireland. Should the Holy Father accept that invitation, this council invites him, as a man of faith, peace and reconciliation, to visit Belfast and calls upon the Northern Ireland Assembly to extend a similar invitation."
SDLP councillor Pat McCarthy's motion