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North Antrim MP Ian Paisley claims he received letter from Catholic priest who is 'urging his parishioners to vote DUP'

DUP MP Ian Paisley claims a priest told him he was urging his parishioners to vote DUP
John Monaghan

IAN Paisley has claimed a Catholic priest wrote to him to thank the DUP for its stance on abortion adding he would be "urging his parishioners" to vote for the party.

The North Antrim MP made the claim in a post on social media after party leader Arlene Foster said she had been contacted by "nationalists and republicans" who claimed they "will be voting for the DUP because they believe we are the only party that supports the unborn".

In a tweet yesterday, Mr Paisley said: "I have a letter from a local priest in my constituency thanking the DUP for its stance on these issues and assuring me that he is urging his parishioners to vote DUP because of the stance we take on social matters."

Within hours, Mr Paisley had received more than 200 responses to his tweet, with one social media user urging him to "show us the letter" while another added: "DUP welcome 'Rome Rule.'"

Lord Kilclooney, the former UUP deputy leader, also weighed in commenting: "Whilst I accept that many genuine Catholics will admire the stance of the DUP on abortion it is not the role of the church or a priest to advise Catholics to vote DUP!"

Despite being challenged to reveal more details, Mr Paisley did not respond. However he continued to tweet on other matters.

While it is standard for Catholic clergy to urge congregations to vote in accordance with the church's teaching and ethos, such pronouncements would stop short of encouraging support for a particular political party.

It is understood that the Diocese of Down and Connor is not aware of any letter.

No one was available to comment on the claim but it is understood that such a letter would have been written by the priest in a personal capacity, rather than on behalf of the diocese.

The most hard-line of unionist parties in Northern Ireland the DUP has often courted controversy for its anti-Catholic views.

The party's founder and former leader, the late Rev Ian Paisley, once said that Catholics "they breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin" and described Pope John Paul II as the "Antichrist".

However in recent years the DUP - which has strong historical links to both the Orange Order and Free Presbyterian Church - has made little secret of its desire to woo Catholic voters.

Mrs Foster's predecessor Peter Robinson, said in 2011 that his task was "to make voting DUP as comfortable a choice for a Catholic as anyone else" and claimed his party's stance on moral issues would attract conservative Catholic voters.

Sinn Féin supported a Yes vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment in the Republic's referendum, while the SDLP - whose leader Colum Eastwood supported Yes - has given its members a free vote on abortion related issues but has said that the party position remains pro-life.

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