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No hiding new era as Charles pops in

PRINCE Charles went 'under cover' on a visit to Belfast yesterday.

The royal visitor dropped in on the 2nd Battalion Mercian Regiment -- of which he is colonel-in-chief -- as it prepared for service in Afghanistan .

There, at the Palace Barracks, in Holywood, Co Down, the prince came face to face with soldiers in full camouflage kit. Later in the day, his visit to a Catholic church in a once troubled area of Belfast was symbolic of a city "in a new era".

The Prince of Wales was at St Malachy's Church in the Markets area to see the result of a £3.5m (€4.15m) restoration project.

It was one of three royal engagements on a 24-hour official visit.

The church, in Alfred Street, was destroyed by a Luftwaffe bomb in 1941, but in 2006 the diocese of Down and Connor embarked on a project to restore its original features.

Prince Charles also chaired a discussion to consider the role of redundant and distressed churches and church estates in the regeneration of communities.

A royal visit close to the Markets area would have been regarded as almost impossible 15 years ago. Just a few streets away a plaque commemorates the spot where former IRA man Joe McCann was shot dead.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said the arrival of Prince Charles showed "we are now in a new era".

"It's not my first time in this church, but it's probably the first time in recent history that we have had a royal in a (Catholic) church here," he said.

"I think it should send out the indication that respect, understanding and tolerance is growing in Northern Ireland."

Irish Independent