DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has spoken of how Northern Ireland’s peace process has “liberated” him and helped him let go of his bitterness.
In a deeply personal interview with the Irish Catholic newspaper, Sir Jeffrey reflected on his political journey over the last 30 years and how he has been “transformed” on a personal level.
Two of Sir Jeffrey’s first cousins, both RUC officers, were killed by the IRA during the Troubles.
But the Lagan Valley MP, who was a vocal opponent of the Good Friday Agreement, said his Christian faith has been central in helping him deal with the past.
He said: “For me personally it has been a liberating journey because I have been able to deal within myself with the bitterness that I felt towards those who were responsible for killing family members, for killing comrades with whom I had served, for killing people within the community that I grew up with.
“I did feel bitter towards people who had done those things. But I have been able to deal with that at a personal level and I have been able to deal with it because of my Christian faith.
“I recognise that what we cannot do is change the past but we do have an opportunity to do something that will prevent what happened in the past reoccurring in the future.”
In the interview, conducted before Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s announcement that Pope Francis intends to visit Ireland in 2018, Sir Jeffrey was asked what he thought of a probable papal visit to Northern Ireland .
Mindful perhaps that his party has not discussed it, he replied that he would give “a personal view” and acknowledged “there are people who have different views on this.”
He added: “The fact is that there are hundreds of thousands of people who live in Northern Ireland who are of the Roman Catholic faith and the pope is the leader of their church.
“I don’t think we would want to send out a message which says that the leader of a certain denomination is not welcome here.
“There are issues of doctrine that I would disagree with the pope on, but it doesn’t mean that I want to ban him from visiting my country.”
Sir Jeffrey also passionately defended his party’s stance on abortion.
“The issue of abortion says so much about the society that we are, that the Assembly must hold the line,” he added.
“If you believe in human rights you must protect the life of the unborn child.
“So, when I hear organisations like Amnesty International, on one hand beat their chests as the champions of human rights and at the same time argue that the life of the unborn child is valueless and does not have a human right, I cannot in conscience square that argument or see the logic of it.”
Sir Jeffrey also robustly defended the DUP’s use of the use of the petition of concern to block attempts at Stormont to introduce same-sex marriage.
He said it was “a mechanism to protect the interests of minorities, plural” and argued that Christians are a category who should be protected by it.