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Retired Presbyterian cleric Latimer defends Martin McGuinness praise

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Rev David Latimer

Rev David Latimer

Rev David Latimer

A retired Presbyterian cleric, who struck up an unlikely friendship with the late Martin McGuinness, has defended paying tribute to the former IRA leader on what would have been his 70th birthday.

Rev David Latimer befriended Mr McGuinness after an appeal for help in bringing attacks against his former church, First Derry Presbyterian, to an end over a decade ago.

On Saturday, Rev Latimer praised the late Sinn Fein figure, who died in March 2017, aged 66, in a video tribute posted on Sinn Fein's Facebook page.

In his contribution, Rev Latimer said: "Martin McGuinness took a big step when he chose to meet with me back in 2006 in this church.

"Imagine a former IRA leader and a British Army chaplain meeting in a Presbyterian Manse of all places, drinking tea, eating scones, and talking. It nearly sounds like a dream or a fairy tale, but it was neither. It actually happened. Two very different people coming together and as a result, we not only got to know each other, but amazingly, we got to like each other."

Kenny Donaldson from Innocent Victims United challenged the Presbyterian Church to confirm whether or not Rev Latimer's comments were reflective of its own policy.

Mr Donaldson said he has received dozens of calls from members, including many from the Presbyterian Church, who were "absolutely aghast and hurt".

Rev Latimer said last night: "I'm not sure those who want to point the finger at me for participating in this video tribute ever had any opportunity to talk with Martin McGuinness.

"As Christians maybe we have to appreciate that when we look into the Bible and read about the characters there, none of them were perfect but none of them were rejected."

He added: "I saw this as an opportunity to share aspects about Martin that some people don't want to recognise, appreciate or accept. As a Christian minister I thank God for the opportunity to come to Derry/Londonderry and I believe there was a plan for Martin and me to get to know each other."

A spokesperson for the Presbyterian Church added: "Dr Latimer is one of many retired ministers in the Presbyterian Church and his views on these issues are well known and are his own."

Belfast Telegraph