Editorial The Pope and The Anti-Christ
JUST when you thought it was safe to assume that Northern Ireland's peace process had vanquished the naysayers and nattering nabobs of negativism, along comes a story that gives you pause.
William Thompson, a key aide to Minster for Enterprise, Trade and Development Nigel Dodds went on Irish radio and proclaimed the Pope the "anti-Christ. Thompson stated that the Pope would never be welcome in Northern Ireland.
Where would Thompson have come up with such a claim? Well, it could have been from his ultimate boss, the Reverend Ian Paisley, who writes on his webpage www.ianpaisley.org,
"It is the purpose of this book to demonstrate that the preaching of the Great Cloud of Witnesses of all Ages in the Church is true and that the little horn is none other than the Dynasty of Rome's Popes and that therefore THE POPE IS THE ANTICHRIST." (His caps)
Thompson was commenting on recent speculation that Pope Benedict XVI may visit Northern Ireland in the near future. The thinking in Irish government circles is that the Pope and Queen Elizabeth, a figure of anathema to many Nationalists, could visit Northern Ireland in similar time frames to inject even more certainty into the peace process.
The thinking is that the Queen might also come to the Irish Republic, her first ever visit, and the first by a British monarch since Irish independence.
The symbolism of such visits cannot be understated. For centuries the Irish and British have been at loggerheads over fealty to the Pope and the Queen. We have just emerged from a 30-year war where the symbolic power of both those figures helped drive men and women to extreme violence.
It is thus a time for calm and collected speech, for an acknowledgement that political tensions still exist and both parties in power have a major responsibility towards the other, not to inflame or foment problems.
Thompson obviously never read the memo. His comments came at the time when Northern Ireland is finally putting its best foot forward and planning for a major economic conference in the North on May 8, heavily underwritten by the American government.
The purpose is to kickstart the North's dire economy, to finally drive home the peace process and underpin it with economic investment at a critical time in the region.
Father Sean McManus of the Irish National Caucus lobby group in Washington, D.C has already taken action against Thompson and held talks this past week with members of Congress.
"It's almost as if Minister Dodds' own department is trying to sabotage the upcoming investment conference in Belfast and to discourage American investment. Already there is dark talk about organizing an American boycott of the conference, something that I do not support," said McManus.
"But make no mistake about it, there is a lot of anger in Washington, and utter amazement that Minister Dodds has shown little concern."
A boycott would be a disaster for the conference, and would only embitter the atmosphere in the North at a time when reasonable discourse is badly needed.