DUP conflict of interest claim over fealty to pope angers SDLP


SDLP DEPUTY leader Alasdair McDonnell has demanded an apology from DUP junior minister Jeffrey Donaldson and a retraction of his claim that Catholics owed allegiance in the first instance to the pope and the Vatican.

Mr Donaldson, suggesting there would be a conflict of interest between any future British sovereign who was a Catholic and the Vatican, was responding to moves at Westminster to reform the 1701 Act of Settlement.

Mr Donaldson, who is also MP for Lagan Valley, told BBC Radio Ulster: “The Vatican is a state, it is a constitutional entity, it is recognised as a state in international law. There is, therefore, a potential conflict of interest between being the head of state of our own country and owing allegiance to another state.” However, Dr McDonnell accused Mr Donaldson of using outdated “tribal mythology” to support political hostility against Catholics.

“As Irish republicans we have no interest in the succession to the British throne or any other throne,” he said. “However, as partners in a powersharing government we are deeply concerned that a junior minister charged with direct responsibility for community relations is peddling poisonous 16th century lies and propaganda.”

He suggested Mr Donaldson “should learn some proper history and drop the tribal mythology”.

Catholics owed no political or constitutional allegiance to the pope or to the Vatican state and they never had, he added.

“This was the lie that was used to attempt to justify the Penal Laws and the legal definition of Irish Catholics as papists – terminology that leading DUP members have only dropped in recent times,” he said. Mr Donaldson, he said, had done great damage to his ministerial position and should apologise.

Mr Donaldson responded: “There is no one jumping up and down in the streets demanding this change, so why make such a song and dance about it?”

Referring to Dr McDonnell’s “outburst”, he asked: “If the Act of Settlement is of no interest to him, why issue press statements on it?”