Belfast City Council votes to invite Pope Francis to visit city

Motion passed by nationalists and Alliance while unionists abstain

The decision to extend an invitation to Pope Francis was passed by 30 votes with none against by Belfast City Council.

The decision to extend an invitation to Pope Francis was passed by 30 votes with none against by Belfast City Council.

Wed, Apr 2, 2014, 01:00

Belfast City Council will formally invite Pope Francis to visit the city.

The decision to extend an invitation was passed by 30 votes with none against. Nationalists and Alliance backed the call, but unionists decided to abstain.

The Pope meets Queen Elizabeth tomorrow (Thurs) and the invitation follows the motion passed by the Seanad to invite the pontiff to the Republic.

Unionist councillors decided not to oppose the motion, proposed by the SDLP, which read: “This council notes that the Irish Seanad, on 19th February, unanimously passed a motion by Senator David Norris, inviting Pope Francis to visit Ireland.

“Should the Holy Father accept that invitation, this council invites him, as a man of faith, peace and reconciliation, to visit the city of Belfast and calls upon the Northern Ireland Assembly to extend a similar invitation.”

They accused nationalists from the SDLP and Sinn Féin as well as the Alliance party of an election stunt ahead of next month’s European Parliament and local government polls. They said nationalists were trying to provoke them into voting against.

DUP councillor Lee Reynolds said the motion “was essentially an election stunt and it wasn’t a game we were willing to play”.

“They were wanting an insult and we weren’t going to give them that, so we chose the path of abstention,” he said.

City Hall will now formally write to Pope Francis asking him to consider visiting the city in the event of a visit to Ireland.

The council will also write to the heads of the Stormont Executive asking them also to invite him.

Pope John Paul II visited Ireland in 1979, and while he abandoned plans to visit the North following the murders of 18 British soldiers at Warrenpoint and of Lord Mountbatten and others on board his boat in Co Sligo, he did celebrate Mass on the banks of the Boyne north of Drogheda which is in the Archdiocese of Armagh.