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DUP MLAs mock Ulster Unionist Robbie Butler for attending papal visit and label Pope 'the antichrist'

Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler (right) attended a civic reception for Pope Francis in Dublin Castle 

AN Ulster Unionist MLA was ridiculed and criticised by his DUP counterparts for attending a civic reception for Pope Francis.

Lagan Valley MLA Robbie Butler has told The Irish News how a senior DUP assembly member said he was wrong to accept an invite to the August event at Dublin Castle and labelled the pontiff “the antichrist”.

He said another DUP MLA blessed himself in a gesture of ridicule as they passed in the corridor of Stormont’s Parliament Buildings.

Mr Butler has declined to reveal the identity of the two DUP MLAs.

The DUP was widely criticised for snubbing the invite from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to the reception for Pope Francis.

Stormont’s other main parties all sent representatives to the event, which was also attended by politicians from the Republic and members of civic society from across Ireland.

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Mrs Foster was away with her family over the weekend of Pope Francis’s historic visit. However, unlike other parties whose leaders were unable to attend, the DUP did not send a representative in Mrs Foster's place.

The former first minister said the invite from the taoiseach was a “personal invitation”.

Mr Butler attended the reception because party leader Robin Swann was taking part in the Royal Black Preceptory's 'Last Saturday' celebrations in Larne.

Ian Knox cartoon 18/8/18: Huge tailbacks form in the Queen's Road/Sydenham Road area of Belfast following the introduction of a new road layout to accommodate the forthcoming Glider system. Arlene Foster's proclaimed reason for not meeting the Pope in Dublin, a prearranged family holiday, ring hollow since no other party representative is put forward in her place 

Recalling how he was confronted by a senior DUP MLA near his Parliament Buildings office, Mr Butler said he was “stunned” by the exchange.

“He wagged his finger at me and told me I was doing the wrong thing by agreeing to go to the civic reception, before saying: ‘Don’t you know he’s the antichrist?’,” the Lagan Valley MLA recalled.

A second encounter in the Stormont corridors saw another MLA bless himself as he passed Mr Butler, a born-again Christian and deacon in the Elim Church.

“It was a throwback to the 1970s, I just couldn’t believe it,” he told The Irish News.

Mr Butler said he was “disappointed” by the DUP MLAs’ behaviour but felt it “validated” his decision to attend the civic reception.

“I felt it was the right thing to do – if you can't be a good neighbour you can’t expect to have good neighbours,” he said.

“I went to Dublin as Christian, Protestant and a unionist and I came back as a Christian, Protestant and a unionist.”

Mr Butler said he enjoyed the experience but was disappointed that Pope Francis did not go further in addressing the legacy of clerical child abuse.

The DUP did not comment on the Lagan Valley MLA’s claims.

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