Victims’ campaigner backs Stalford over ‘pope’ jibe

Christopher Stalford MLA said he was surprised at the claim
Christopher Stalford MLA said he was surprised at the claim

A victims’ campaigner has voiced support for Christopher Stalford over allegations the DUP representative “ridiculed” a fellow MLA for attending a reception in honour of Pope Francis.

Newspaper reports this week carried claims by Ulster Unionist Robbie Butler that two unnamed DUP members had mocked him for accepting an invitation to the event in Dublin three months ago.

Mr Butler alleged that one had blessed himself in a form of mockery, while another accused him of making a mistake by supporting a reception for “the anti-Christ”.

On Thursday, the Irish News named the MLA who blessed himself as Christopher Stalford, and the other as Mervyn Storey.

Quoted in the article, Mr Stalford said he had been surprised by the claims as they arose from a “joke” between friends.

“I would never mock or deride someone because of their religious belief because I am a man of religious belief,” Mr Stalford said.

Sammy Heenan, whose father was murdered at their Co Down home by the IRA in 1985, said he was “really disappointed” that Mr Butler had “turned a little banter into something more sinister, for whatever reason”.

In a Facebook post, Mr Heenan said: “I actually believe this ... will undermine banter and increase suspicion on that basis between politicians who get along.”

In a message on Twitter, Mr Butler said: I do not recognise the story as printed in the Irish News.”

He went on to say: “It is not a fair representation of either myself nor the other MLAs named.”

The News Letter was unable to contact Mr Butler on Thursday for further comment.