DUP's Stalford silent as own minister slams him for going to GAA Sunday game
A DUP MLA who accompanied Arlene Foster to the recent Ulster GAA Final is staying tightlipped about scathing criticism from his own church minister over their attendance at the game on a Sunday.
South Belfast Assemblyman Christopher Stalford is a member of Rev Ian Brown's Free Presbyterian congregation.
Rev Brown, minister at Ian Paisley's former church, Martyrs Memorial, issued a statement last week in which he condemned "retrograde steps with respect to the sanctity of the Lord's Day", beginning with "the attendance of high level politicians at a GAA final on Sunday".
Rev Brown, who is clerk of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, also criticised a Belfast City Council decision to hold next year's Belfast Marathon on a Sunday, rather than the normal bank holiday Monday.
He said: "Both developments cause incredible angst and offence to Christians who treasure the special nature of God's Day.
"The second will certainly exclude a considerable number of Christians from participation in a race through which finances have been raised for many charitable causes and will radically inconvenience others in their attempts to proceed to their places of worship.
"Of course, in an age when the flagships of respect, tolerance and equality are supposed to be sailing the seas, it must again be noted that such vessels are characteristically lop-sided and capable of travelling in only one direction.
"If it is the genuine desire of politicians in our country to secure the brightest of futures for the citizens of our beautiful country, then showing appropriate respect for God's Day instead of targeting it for relentless selfish assault would be a good place to begin."
Rev Brown was not the only Free Presbyterian minister to condemn the DUP representatives' attendance at the high-profile sporting event.
On Sunday Rev Brian McClung, minister of Newtownabbey Free Presbyterian Church, preached a sermon entitled 'The Consequences of Sabbath Desecration' in which he also took aim at Mr Stalford and Mrs Foster.
He said: "Last Lord's Day we had two well-known DUP politicians attending a GAA match down in Clones, Arlene Foster and Christopher Stalford, who I'm told is an attender of the Free Presbyterian Church, and he ought to know better.
"But there is a slide into Sabbath desecration in our nation.
"What goes on in the nation affects the people of God.
"We're going to reap the consequences in this nation more and more."
The Belfast Telegraph contacted Mr Stalford yesterday afternoon.
He confirmed that he was a member of Rev Brown's church on the Ravenhill Road, but initially said that he did not wish to comment.
He then indicated that he would consider giving a response later.
However, despite several attempts by this newspaper, Mr Stalford could not be contacted last night.
The DUP said yesterday: "Issues around attendance at the match were responded to in media interviews the day after the match and we don't have anything further to add to that."
Speaking as she arrived at the Ulster GAA Final last month between her native Fermanagh and eventual winners Donegal, Mrs Foster acknowledged that "there are some people that may be uncomfortable with me being here today on a Sunday".
But she added that she is "the leader of a political party that wants to have a shared society in Northern Ireland, and to do that we have to take steps forward".
"To do that we also have to build a respect and a tolerance and that's what I want to do," she added. "I hope that others will take the chance to step forward as well and to understand and appreciate and tolerate another culture perhaps that isn't theirs."
During her visit, Mrs Foster met with Ulster GAA president Michael Hasson.
She was warmly applauded by GAA fans as she took her seat just in front of Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill.
The pair shook hands and Mrs Foster and Mr Stalford stood as the Irish national anthem was played, as is traditional at the start of big GAA games.
Belfast City Council's growth and regeneration committee approved changes to the marathon last Wednesday, and the issue was rubber-stamped by full council last night.