Presbyterian cleric praises McGuinness in ardfheis address

Sat, Sep 10, 2011, 01:00

PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER Rev Dr David Latimer described Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness as “one of the true great leaders of modern times” when he addressed the Sinn Féin ardfheis in Belfast last night.

History was made on the double in the Waterfront Hall in that this was the first time an ardfheis has been held north of the Border, and the first time a northern Protestant religious minister addressed the conference.

Dr Latimer, who three years ago served for a period as a British army chaplain in Afghanistan, was enthusiastically received at the conference, earning a standing ovation at the end when he finished with what he called a “Celtic blessing” on all the delegates.

He delivered a relatively short address without what journalists would call any major news content. But it was his simple presence on the stage with the likes of Mr McGuinness and Gerry Adams sitting behind him that made his speech, delivered with some evangelical verve, notable and newsworthy.

Learning his lesson from Queen Elizabeth, his description of delegates as “A chairde” and his final Irish good luck wish of “Adh Mór Ort” demonstrated that here was a minister who knew how to work an audience.

His description of Mr McGuinness as a great modern leader will infuriate some unionists.

Dr Latimer nonetheless insisted it was a strong and genuine friendship he has developed with the Deputy First Minister.

He explained that it started when Mr McGuinness helped provide £1.6 million to restore the church at which he ministers, the First Derry Presbyterian Church, which is within the city’s famous walls.

Dr Latimer proposed that Ireland should stage a “countrywide day of hope and transformation”, and that efforts should be made to ensure the personal suffering of Protestants, Catholics and others would not be “airbrushed” out of the narrative of the Troubles.

A method must be found to tell people’s collectives stories, he added.

“This could offer more than a modicum of comfort to hurting people.”

“We must not let the peace die, we will not let the peace die, and with a man like Martin at the helm we can be sure of that,” he told delegates.

He praised the work of the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin in helping cement the peace with their powersharing agreement, and wondered would the DUP invite a Catholic priest to address its annual conference, this year or next.

He also praised DUP leader Peter Robinson and Mr McGuinness for how they had responded following the dissident republican murder of Constable Ronan Kerr, particularly mentioning how the First Minister broke with his religious convention by attending the funeral Mass for the murdered officer.