DUP's social values appealing to Catholic voters, claims Jeffrey Donaldson
Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson believes more Catholics are turning out to vote for the DUP - because of the party's stance on social issues such as abortion.
In an interview in today's The Irish Catholic, Mr Donaldson claimed many of the DUP's core values resonated with all sections of society.
Asked if he had any hard evidence of Catholics actually voting for his party, he said: "Yes, in the recent Assembly elections I met Catholics in the Lisburn area who were very clear about this on the doorstep.
"They said: 'Jeffrey, we are a Catholic family and all of us are voting for the DUP because we support the stance you take on social issues'. They said they were voting for the DUP for the first time.
"How significant this is I am not so sure, but I know it is there and it is growing."
During the interview he offered his "personal view" of Pope Francis' trip to Ireland in 2018, which will see the pontiff crossing the border to visit Northern Ireland.
The Pope will be in Dublin for the World Meeting of Families in what will be the first papal visit since John Paul II's historic trip in 1979.
He is expected to travel over the border, something John Paul II was unable to do 37 years ago due to fears about his security at a time of heightened tensions during the Troubles.
Acknowledging that "there are people who have different views on this", Mr Donaldson said of Pope Francis' visit in 2018: "The fact is there are hundreds of thousands of people who live in Northern Ireland who are of the Roman Catholic faith and the Pope is the leader of their Church.
"And therefore I think that if the Pope is visiting members of his Church in Northern Ireland, are we suggesting that he should be banned from Northern Ireland?"
He added: "I don't think we would want to send out a message which says that the leader of a certain denomination is not welcome here.
"There are issues of doctrine that I would disagree with the Pope on, but it doesn't mean that I want to ban him from visiting my country."
In the candid interview with the newspaper, Mr Donaldson spoke of the "challenging times we live in", and how dialogue with people of different traditions could help foster a more united society.
"We live in changing and challenging times and I believe it is important that we encourage dialogue and better understanding between people who represent the different traditions in Northern Ireland and across these islands.
"As a unionist and Presbyterian with a strong Christian faith, it is important to me that my neighbours who are Catholic understand where I am coming from on the social and political issues that confront us at this time, and vice versa.
"We need to have such a dialogue, in order to identify where there is common ground on these issues and to explore how we can work together more effectively to promote the values that are important to us.
"That does not require us to compromise on our core beliefs."