Friday 13 December 2019

'Pope would be safe in Belfast'

Theresa Villiers hopes visit could happen

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

It should be "entirely possible" for Pope Francis to embark on a safe visit to Belfast, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said today.

Ms Villiers gave her backing to the papal visit, saying it would be "a very positive step" for Northern Ireland.

She said: "The papal visit to London was extremely successful; I have every confidence that the security situation would mean that a papal visit to Northern Ireland would be entirely possible.

"And I believe - it's obviously a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive whether such an invitation is extended - but I think it would a very positive step if the Pope were to visit Northern Ireland."

Ms Villiers' comments came in response to a question from North Down MP Lady Hermon during Northern Ireland questions in the Commons.

She said: "You will be well aware that there has been some controversy within Belfast City Council about inviting Pope Francis to visit the city.

"Do you believe that, in fact, the security situation and indeed the political situation in Northern Ireland are conducive to a papal visit any time soon?"

It comes after councillors at Belfast City Hall voted unanimously in favour of inviting Pope Francis on an official visit. However, Unionists abstained from the vote, with many suggesting it could further heighten sectarian tensions.

Pope John Paul II visited Ireland in August 1979 but a planned visit to Armagh was called off after the IRA murdered the Queen's cousin Lord Mountbatten and ambushed 18 soldiers.

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