A veteran DUP member and former special adviser has released a statement which explicitly disagrees with Peter Robinson’s explanation for attending a Requiem Mass.
Wallace Thompson, who was an adviser to then finance minister Nigel Dodds after devolution was restored in 2007, released the statement yesterday on behalf of the Evangelical Protestant Society (EPS), of which he is secretary.
The statement, which is evidence that at least some traditional members are not happy with all of Mr Robinson’s modernising changes to the DUP, was last night rejected by the party leader.
A DUP spokesman said that the First Minister had no apology to make for his attendance at the funeral of slain PSNI officer Ronan Kerr in 2011 and said that most people would believe that he had a duty to be there.
The row comes as fallout from Monday night’s dramatic televised interview with Ian Paisley continues.
Yesterday the man who succeeded Dr Paisley as minister of the Martyrs’ Memorial Free Presbyterian Church declined to comment on Dr Paisley’s allegations in the programme.
And former DUP MLA Paul Berry said that he was “shocked” to hear Dr Paisley say that Fr Alec Reid had been the key person who persuaded him of the veracity of IRA decommissioning.
Although the EPS, a small inter-denominational organisation, is not a political movement, it has long had strong individual links to the DUP.
The late DUP MLA George Dawson was the group’s treasurer until his death in 2007 and the Rev David McConaghie, an aide to DUP MP David Simpson until 2012, also parted company with the EPS at that point.
Dr Paisley has also attended EPS events in the past.
The EPS statement, which lamented the “gradual but steady erosion of Ulster’s Protestant foundations”, said it was concerned at the “seemingly increasing willingness on the part of some Protestant politicians to attend Requiem Mass”.
“Now, we fully appreciate the sensitivities surrounding this issue, and do not wish to take an approach which might be interpreted as harsh or uncaring towards those who have been bereaved and are in sorrow. However, there are ways in which we can offer support and sympathy which do not include being present at the Mass.
“While we respect the right of conscience, we disagree with the assertion by the First Minister in a speech last October that his attendance at the Mass was the right thing to do.
“It is not the right thing for an evangelical Protestant to do, and it should never be demoted to the level of a confidence-building measure.”
That referred to Mr Robinson’s speech at a GAA dinner last autumn where he defended his decision to go to the funeral of slain PSNI officer Ronan Kerr, saying: “It wasn’t popular with everyone in my constituency that I...attended a funeral Requiem Mass, nor was it popular with everyone in the Deputy First Minister’s community when he met with Her Majesty the Queen.
“But those were all the right things to do.”
Last night a DUP spokesman said: “They are entitled to their view on these matters but the First Minister has no apology to make for attending the funeral of a young police officer butchered by republican terrorists.
“Indeed, most people would regard that he had a duty to do so.”
Yesterday’s statement from the group said that it had written to “all Protestant and unionist elected representatives at Stormont and Westminster to urge them to take a firm stand in two specific areas where we feel there has been slippage in recent times”.
As well as the issue of attendance at Mass, the statement highlighted what it said was the “alarming decline in respect for the sanctity of the Lord’s Day”, but said the organisation wanted to “commend” the DUP for its “principled refusal to participate in the Haass talks on a Sunday”.