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Safe for pope to visit north says Villiers

IT SHOULD be "entirely possible" for pope Francis to safely visit Belfast, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has said.

The conservative minister, pictured, gave her backing to calls for a papal visit, saying it would be "a very positive step" for Northern Ireland.

"The papal visit to London was extremely successful; I have every confidence that the security situation would mean that a papal visit to Northern Ireland would be entirely possible," she said.

"And i believe - it's obviously a matter for the Northern Ireland executive whether such an invitation is extended - but i think it would a very positive step if the pope were to visit Northern Ireland."

Ms Villiers' comments came in response to a question from North Down Mp lady Hermon during Northern Ireland questions in the House of commons yesterday.

She said: "You will be well aware that there has been some controversy within Belfast city council about inviting pope Francis to visit the city.

"Do you believe that, in fact, the security situation and indeed the political situation in Northern ireland are conducive to a papal visit any time soon?"

Belfast city councillors voted unanimously on Tuesday in favour of inviting pope Francis on an official visit, although unionists abstained from the vote following claims it could further heighten sectarian tensions. Pope John Paul ll visited Ireland in August 1979 but a planned visit to Armagh was called off after the IRA killed the Queen's cousin lord Mountbatten and 18 soldiers in separate attacks.

* GREAT TO SEE YOU: Pope Francis is greeted by a boy as he arrives for his weekly general audience in St Peter's Square at the Vatican, yesterday. Belfast City Council voted on Tuesday to invite the Pope to Belfast. However, unionists abstained from the vote

Picture: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

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