First Minister hails visit of Prince as ‘symbolic’
A Royal visit to St Malachy's Church in the Markets has been described as “symbolic of a new era”, by First Minister Peter Robinson.
Prince Charles walked through the doors of St Malachy's Church on Friday to view the results of the £3.5 million restoration project.
The Prince of Wales met with representatives from parish groups, including the Society of St Vincent De Paul, St Malachy's Primary School, church youth leaders and the church sacristan.
Mr Robinson said: “ It is not my first time in this church, but it is the first time we have had a royal here.”
Just a few streets away a plaque commemorates the spot, where former IRA man Joe McCann was shot dead.
Mr Robinson added: “I think this visit should send out the indication that respect, understanding and tolerance is growing in Northern Ireland and that is a good message.”
The church, in Alfred street, was destroyed by a Luftwaffe bomb in 1941, and then rebuilt. In 2006 the diocese of Down and Connor embarked on a mayor project to restore its original features, including the external church fabric. Prince Charles was accompanied on his visit by Dame Mary Peters and Lord Mayor of Belfast Councillor Pat Convery.
SDLP MP for South Belfast, Alasdair McDonnell, said the visit may have been impossible a few years ago. He said: “I think this is all a sign of changing times.”
Prince Charles also chaired a discussion to consider the role of redundant and distressed churches and church estates in the heritage-led regeneration of communities.
Mr McDonnell added: “This church is held dear by a large number of people in this city, and the fact that Prince Charles has come to visit is a good thing, a positive sign that things have moved on in Belfast.”
The ceremony was one of three royal engagements on a 24-hour official visit to the province.
Earlier in the day the Royal couple visited Palace Barracks in Holywood. Prince Charles met and chatted with the soldiers of the 2nd Battalion Mercian Regiment who are preparing for their service in Afghanistan. He also visited Dundonald in the course of his stay.
The visit coincided with increasing speculation that the Queen will visit the Republic for the first time later this year.