Ulster Unionist Party 'would back a papal visit to Belfast'
The Ulster Unionist Party has distanced itself from comments made by one of its Belfast councillors on the SDLP proposal to invite Pope Francis to the city.
Councillor Jim Rodgers told the Belfast Telegraph that the city was not the proper location for a visit from the head of the Catholic Church as there was too much "mistrust, hatred and unrest" in the city, and he accused the SDLP of "electioneering".
Last night a UUP spokesman said it "would be happy to see Pope Francis visit Belfast".
A motion, proposed by the SDLP's Pat McCarthy to invite Pope Francis to Belfast after the Irish Seanad agreed to invite him to the Republic, will be debated at Belfast City Council on Tuesday.
The Alliance Party branded Mr Rodgers' comments about the possibility of a papal visit to Belfast as disrespectful and intolerant.
Alliance Belfast council group leader Maire Hendron said she was disappointed by the comments he made in an interview with this newspaper.
She said: "I am shocked that the UUP has taken such an intolerant view to a potential visit by the Pope. I would call on Mike Nesbitt to clarify his party's position and outline why one of his councillors has made such disrespectful comments.
"I think there would be a number of UUP members who will be horrified to hear what Jim Rodgers has said."
Councillor Hendron also said Alliance would back a visit.
"Alliance would be in favour of a papal visit," she said.
"I believe that any visit by the Pope would be supported by people from all faiths and backgrounds.
"A papal visit would show that Northern Ireland supports religious freedom and respects the diversity in our society."
In a statement the UUP distanced itself from Mr Rodgers' comments.
A UUP spokesman said: "We would be happy to see Pope Francis visit Belfast.
"As our capital, Belfast is a city for everyone. Pope Francis is the leader of one of the largest faiths in Northern Ireland and such a visit would clearly mean a great deal to those who follow him.
"Pluralism is at the very core of the Ulster Unionist Party.
"We are a political party, not a religious organisation.
"We are, and always will be, vehement advocates of a society made up of all faiths and none."