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Poll: Pope Francis invite to Belfast causes uproar - was the council right to issue invitation?

By Rebecca Black

Published 03/11/2015

Pope Francis waves to the press as arrives for the Synod on the family at the Vatican on October 15, 2015. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLIALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images
Pope Francis waves to the press as arrives for the Synod on the family at the Vatican on October 15, 2015. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLIALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

Belfast City Council has voted to invite the Pope to the city for the second time amid controversy.

The Alliance Party was accused of electioneering after Councillor Nuala McAllister proposed issuing a formal invitation to Pope Francis to visit the city during his trip to Dublin in 2018 for the 9th World Meeting of Families.

SDLP councillor Nichola Mallon said she was confused over why the motion was being proposed when an invitation had already been sent to the Vatican from the council in April 2014.

It was sent after a motion from her party colleague Pat McCarthy was backed, and followed the Queen’s first meeting with Francis at the Vatican.

It can be revealed that a response was sent on behalf of the Vatican by Monsignor Peter B Wells.

He thanked the council for the invitation and added: “I would assure you that this invitation and the noble sentiments that motivated it have been duly noted.”

But there was no indication over whether the Pope will take the invite up.

Last night, Ulster Unionist councillor Graham Craig proposed that the council “moved on” to other matters.

But Deputy Lord Mayor Guy Spence, who was chairing the meeting in the absence of Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Arder Carson, said the council would hear Ms McAllister’s motion.

Ms McAllister said she felt the 9th World Meeting of Families in Dublin would provide the opportunity for a Papal visit to Northern Ireland and proposed sending a formal invitation to Pope Francis to visit Belfast.

Pope Francis waves from his popemobile along the Copacabana beachfront on his way to celebrate Mass in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, July 28, 2013. Hundreds of thousands of young people slept under chilly skies in the white sand awaiting Francis' final Mass for World Youth Day. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Pope Francis waves from his popemobile along the Copacabana beachfront on his way to celebrate Mass in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, July 28, 2013. Hundreds of thousands of young people slept under chilly skies in the white sand awaiting Francis' final Mass for World Youth Day. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 28: Pope Francis waves from the Popemobile as he heads to celebrate Mass on Copacabana Beach during World Youth Day celebrations on July 28, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Millions of pilgrims are expected to join the pontiff for his visit to the Catholic Church's World Youth Day celebrations which is running July 23-28. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 28: A man reaches out of a hotel window to take a photo as crowds jam Copacabana Beach for Pope Francis' final Mass on his trip to Brazil, with millions expected to attend, on July 28, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A reported crowd of 3 million faithful jammed the beach for a prayer vigil on the final night of World Youth Day last night. Francis' first international trip as Pope has drawn millions to see the first Pope to hail from Latin America. Brazil has the largest number of Catholics on Earth. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 28: Pope Francis waves and blesses the son of a policeman from the Popemobile as he arrives to celebrate Mass on Copacabana Beach during World Youth Day celebrations on July 28, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. More than 1.5 million pilgrims are expected to join the pontiff for his visit to the Catholic Church's World Youth Day celebrations which is running July 23-28. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 28: Pope Francis waves from the Popemobile as he arrives to celebrate Mass on Copacabana Beach during World Youth Day celebrations on July 28, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. More than 1.5 million pilgrims are expected to join the pontiff for his visit to the Catholic Church's World Youth Day celebrations which is running July 23-28. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 28: Pope Francis waves and blesses the son of a policeman from the Popemobile as he arrives to celebrate Mass on Copacabana Beach during World Youth Day celebrations on July 28, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. More than 1.5 million pilgrims are expected to join the pontiff for his visit to the Catholic Church's World Youth Day celebrations which is running July 23-28. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 28: Pilgrims begin to wake before sunrise at Copacabana Beach during World Youth Day celebrations where Pope Francis will later celebrate a mass of farewell and prayer of Angelus on July 28, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. More than 1.5 million pilgrims are expected to join the pontiff for his visit to the Catholic Church's World Youth Day celebrations which runs July 23-28. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 27: Pilgrims and others walk for Copacabana Beach during World Youth Day celebrations where Pope Francis will later attend a prayer vigil with youth on July 27, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. More than 1.5 million pilgrims are expected to join the pontiff for his visit to the Catholic Church's World Youth Day celebrations which runs July 23-28.(Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
Priests attend the World Youth Day closing Mass celebrated by Pope Francis on the Copacabana beachfront in Rio de Janeiro, Sunday, July 28, 2013. Francis concluded the first pastoral trip of his pontificate to Brazil where he attended the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
A stray dog walks across the stage near the altar where Pope Francis celebrates Mass on the Copacabana beachfront, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, July 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
Pope Francis arrives to the stage to accompany pilgrims before a night vigil at the Copacabana beachfront in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, July 27, 2013. Francis will preside over an evening vigil service on Copacabana beach that is expected to draw more than 1 million young people. (AP Photo/Luca Zennaro, Pool)
Crowds attending the World Youth Day's closing Mass line the shore of Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Sunday, July 28, 2013. An estimated 3 million people poured onto the beach for the final Mass of Pope Francis' historic trip to his home continent, cheering the first Latin American pope in one of the biggest turnouts for a papal Mass in recent history. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
In this image released by Brazil's Presidential Press Office, Pope Francis meets with Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, from left, Uruguay's Vice President Danilo Astori, Bolivia's President Evo Morales, and Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 28, 2013. Francis wrapped up a historic trip to his home continent Sunday with a Mass that drew a reported 3 million people. (AP Photo/Brazil's Presidential Press Office, Roberto Stuckert Filho)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 28: Pope Francis arrives in the Popemobile for his final Mass on his trip to Brazil, with millions expected to attend, on July 28, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A reported crowd of 3 million faithful jammed the beach for a prayer vigil on the final night of World Youth Day last night. Francis' first international trip as Pope has drawn millions to see the first Pope to hail from Latin America. Brazil has the largest number of Catholics on Earth. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

She said such a visit would be as historic as the visit of the Queen to Dublin.

DUP councillor John Hussey described the debate as “déjà vu”, and reiterated his party’s position from the 2014 discussion — that as the Pope is a head of state, it is only appropriate for the Queen to issue the invitation.

Sinn Fein councillor Jim McVeigh said he would welcome an invitation to the Pope to visit Belfast.

However DUP councillor Christopher Stalford accused Alliance of electioneering and “to peel off conservative Catholic voters to vote for the Alliance Party”.

Mr Craig asked whether the council would vote on his amendment to “move on” — and at one stage Mr Spence was almost drowned out by an uproar from the unionist benches, but he ruled that the council should vote on the motion.

Mr Spence reminded councillors that people were observing the meeting on a live online broadcast and urged them to behave in a mature way.

After a show of hands, the council voted 38-1 in favour of inviting Francis to Belfast again.

The sole TUV councillor, Jolene Bunting, voted against the motion.

The UUP changed its position from 2014 and its party councillors voted for the invite this time, alongside Alliance, the SDLP and Sinn Fein.

The DUP and PUP abstained again last night.

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