Belfast Telegraph

Churchgoer hits out at Sinn Fein MP’s clinic in parish hall

 

By Claire O'Boyle

Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard has sparked a row with church-goers after arranging to meet constituents in a Co Down parish hall.

The MP for South Down posted an invitation online for members of the public to join him for a 'monthly MP clinic' at Newcastle Parish Centre from next week.

The notice says the regular meeting starts with a two-hour session next Monday morning where people can "drop in to discuss any issues with Chris".

However, the announcement has not been welcomed by all, with one parishioner warning the involvement of the party in a Church-linked location will be seen as "a calculated snub to the Protestant minority in the town" and will only "harden division and mistrust".

The grandfather, who has been an active member of the Church of the Assumption for more than 40 years and has seen his children and grandchildren baptised and married there, said he feels "ashamed and humiliated" over this "one-sided move" from the Church.

He said: "The Church of the Assumption is less than 50 yards away from the Presbyterian Church. What would the Catholic majority in Newcastle feel if the Presbyterian Church allowed its premises to be used to propagate a loyalist/unionist political agenda?

"I am appalled at the decision of the Church authorities to allow, without any form of parish consultation, the use of parish property for party political purposes. In particular I am hurt and disillusioned that a political party which is fully committed to the introduction of abortion on demand, on both parts of the island of Ireland, is to be allowed a potential propaganda platform for those views in a Catholic-owned and run facility."

The Newcastle local, who wished to remain anonymous, added: "The Parish Centre is, and has always been up to now, been regarded as a neutral space for all residents of Newcastle.

"It is used for a variety of purposes including interdenominational bible study classes.

"Nobody is going to feel comfortable going into those premises, however, for such events if the decision to allow that same space to be used for the propagation of the Sinn Fein manifesto."

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Down and Connor confirmed Sinn Fein will be hiring the room in the parish hall on a monthly basis. They said: "The hiring of rooms can be carried out by all agencies and individuals under the understanding the business conducted within the property is in alignment with the ethos of the parish community."

The Revd Canon Ian Ellis, from St John's Church of Ireland in Newcastle, said if any political party wished to hold official meetings in their premises, he felt it "unlikely" to happen.

"Something like that would go to the vestry, the Church committee, to discuss," he said.

"However I would consider it very unlikely."

A Sinn Fein spokesperson said: "During the Westminster election campaign Chris Hazzard committed to being an MP for all the people of South Down. In keeping with that commitment he is launching a new monthly constituency clinic in Newcastle in addition to the first class constituency services Sinn Fein provide right across South Down."

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