Belfast Telegraph

Paisley to reveal letter from priest urging Catholics to vote for DUP

MP backs Foster's claim Catholics now rallying to party over its pro-life stance

By Gillian Halliday

Ian Paisley says he will publish a letter he received from a Catholic priest in which the cleric said he was advising parishioners to vote for the DUP because of its opposition to abortion.

The North Antrim MP revealed the correspondence after DUP leader Arlene Foster claimed republicans and nationalists were defecting to the party due to its anti-abortion stance.

Mr Paisley, whose post was mocked by scores of people on Twitter, including Alliance leader Naomi Long, said he was in the process of "making arrangements" to publish the clergyman's letter today.

Mrs Foster claimed nationalists and republicans in Northern Ireland were defecting to the DUP in light of the Republic's historic abortion referendum result, which saw around two-thirds of voters back reform.

During a television interview with Sky's Sophy Ridge yesterday, Mrs Foster claimed that since the May 26 result, nationalists and republicans had been in contact to say they now want to back the DUP as "the only party that supports the unborn".

"I have had emails from people in the Republic of Ireland feeling very disenfranchised about what has happened in the Republic of Ireland," she said.

"I have had emails from nationalists and republicans in Northern Ireland not quite believing what is going on and saying they will be voting for the DUP because they believe we are the only party that supports the unborn."

Her comments were backed by Mr Paisley. "Over the past year and more I've seen a trend where people who would be perceived to be of a traditional Catholic persuasion are prepared to say to senior DUP members: 'We are voting for the Democratic Unionist Party on a number of issues, principally social conscience issues'," said Mr Paisley.

"I certainly see this as a growing trend. There is more and more of it being said to us very directly - and when I look at ballot box returns in certain parts of my own constituency, it's very, very clear that there is a trend."

The claims, however, were rubbished by top Sinn Fein members, including former Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir.

Mr O Muilleoir said it was "highly unlikely" any republican would vote for a party "so vehemently against civil and human rights".

Meanwhile, a cross-party coalition of Westminster MPs swung into action at the weekend in a bid to force the Government to take action on abortion in Northern Ireland in the absence of a functioning Assembly.

The MPs are attempting to repeal the 157-year-old Offences Against the Person Act which, if successful, would effectively remove a block to abortion here.

Labour backbencher Stella Creasy, who backed the move on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, said the current law placed women in the same category as rapists.

"The Offences against the Person Act passed in 1861 puts abortion in the same category as rape, child stealing and using gunpowder to blow people up," she said.

"What that means is that right now in Northern Ireland, where there are no exemptions to this law, if you are raped and you become pregnant as a result of that rape, and you seek a termination, you would face a longer prison sentence than the person who attacked you."

The MP said that the move would be respectful of devolution, adding: "It is about repealing a piece of UK legislation that stops people in Northern Ireland having medical rather than criminal laws about abortion."

Theresa May faces a growing political headache over the issue, as her fragile administration still depends on the support of the DUP's 10 MPs in a 'confidence and supply' deal.

Downing Street believes that any reform here "is an issue for Northern Ireland", a source said, adding: "It shows one of the important reasons we need a functioning Executive back up and running."

The DUP is a lone voice in its hardline opposition to relaxation of legislation on abortion.

Members of the SDLP and UUP can adopt a position according to conscience, while at a conference later this month Sinn Fein is due to consider whether it should now support unrestricted abortion at up to 12 weeks.

Belfast Telegraph

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