MLA attending Dublin visit to ‘show respect to neighbours’

UUP MLA Robbie Butler is travelling to Dublin to hear a speech by Pope Francis
UUP MLA Robbie Butler is travelling to Dublin to hear a speech by Pope Francis

A UUP MLA who is travelling to Dublin to hear a speech by Pope Francis says he is doing so in order to show respect to his nationalist neighbours.

Lagan Valley MLA Robbie Butler said that he had taken some abuse on social media when he publicly confirmed he would be going.

“There are nationalists telling me nobody should be going - that it is not right to involve politics in the church - and because of the clerical sexual abuse cover up by the church,” he said.

“And then there are apparently quite young members of the Protestant Unionist Loyalist community saying I should not be going, citing Anti-Christ type language.

“So it is not just nationalists but also ‘superprods’ who are telling me not to go and it is very interesting to see them agreeing on something, although for quite different reasons.”

The ongoing international revelations of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy have not put him off attending.

“This is the first time in 40 years that the pope has visited Ireland. It is significant that he is to address the horrors that they did not help stop. I believe this to be the last chance saloon for the church to give redress for the victims it has hurt,” he said.

Although describing himself as a “born-again Christian”, his primary motivation for attending is political.

“Leo Varadkar wrote to us inviting us to hear an address from himself and from the pope, so my acceptance is first of all about courtesy and respect. It is not difficult to show respect to those people whose values and views you share. It is showing respect when you go out of your comfort zone to show respect to neighbours who are different from you.”

In his youth he heard many sermons about the Catholic Church which “jarred” with him - and his reaction to such messages “hasn’t changed”.

“I am concerned about the inability to show respect or tolerance to others.”

But he has received public support from one perhaps less expected quarter. Fiona Paisley, wife of suspended DUP MP Ian Paisley, praised his decision on social media.

Her brother-in-law Kyle Paisley recently described the Pope as “the living antithesis of Biblical Protestantism” and said that by his many names and titles, he “usurps honour due to God alone”.

But she assured Robbie of her support for his decision. “My head is in my hands after reading some of the replies to your [Facebook] post Robbie, each to their own view,” she said. “Always do what you think is right in your heart.”

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood and Deputy Leader Nichola Mallon will travel to Dublin for the visit, as will Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy and other figures from the party, although Michelle O’Neill will not travel due to a broken leg.

DUP leader Arlene Foster will not be going, as she will be away on holiday, the party causing controversy by failing to send any representatives.

Alliance is sending Kellie Armstrong MLA. Party leader Naomi Long was due to be abroad but has cancelled the trip due to family illness.