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DUP owes Catholics an explanation for Pope Francis Dublin reception snub, says Alban Maginness

DUP leader Arlene Foster will not be attending the taoiseach's function for the Pope. Picture by David Cheskin/PA Wire.

THE DUP owes Catholics in Northern Ireland an explanation for snubbing Pope Francis during the pontiff's historic visit to Ireland this weekend, a former chairman of the SDLP has said.

Retired assembly member Alban Maginness described Arlene Foster's reason for not accepting an invitation to Saturday's civic reception for the Pope as "very, very feeble".

According to the DUP, the former first minister will be away with her family this weekend. However, her party will not be following the example of other Stormont parties whose leaders are unable to travel Dublin on Saturday, by sending a representative in Mrs Foster's place.

Lagan Valley MLA Robbie Butler will attend the Dublin Castle civic reception in place of Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann, who plans to join the Royal Black Preceptory's 'Last Saturday' celebrations in Larne. Alliance will to send a representative in place of leader Naomi Long and her deputy Stephen Farry, both of who are out of the country.

When asked by The Irish News yesterday why the DUP would not be sending anyone to represent the party in Mrs Foster's place, a spokeswoman said there was nothing to add to last week's statement.

That statement said that Mrs Foster acknowledged the significance of the pontiff's visit for Ireland's Catholics.

There will be a civic reception for Pope Francis at Dublin Castle on Saturday. Picture by AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

But according to Mr Maginness, the DUP decision not to attend any of the events associated with Pope Francis's visit is a "massive own goal".

"The manner in which the DUP has handled this is a terrible misjudgement and verges on the offensive to thousands of Catholics," the former North Belfast MLA told The Irish News.

"The fact that they are not sending anybody only compounds the leader's fairly insulting response – surely Mrs Foster has been aware for months that the Pope was coming and that she was likely to be invited?"

The former SDLP chairman pointed to the example of Presbyterian Moderator Dr Charles McMullen, who as well as the Dublin Castle reception will also attend Saturday night's Festival of Families event in Croke Park.

"I imagine because of theological and doctrinal differences Charles McMullen would have had difficulties with the invitation, yet he was still able to accept," he said.

Mr Maginness said Mrs Foster and the DUP owed northern Catholics an explanation of why they had declined the invite.

Martin O'Brien said the DUP's decision not to travel to Dublin was 'deeply disappointing and surprising'

Religious affairs commentator Martin O'Brien said the DUP's response was "deeply disappointing and surprising".

He said the presence of Mrs Foster or a senior DUP member at Saturday's reception would have been a "potent symbol of reconciliation".

"One has only to look back at the goodwill created by Martin McGuinness’s meetings with the Queen, her state visit to the Republic and the return visit by President Higgins to Britain, to see how welcome and wholesome such developments are," he said.

"Have the DUP really thought through what message this is sending to Catholics at this time?"

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