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Complaint to be lodged against DUP MLAs over anti-Catholic behaviour

A complaint is to be lodged against Christopher Stalford and Mervyn Storey after they mocked a fellow MLA over accepting an invitation to a Papal reception

THE SDLP's John Dallat plans to lodge a complaint against the former DUP minister who called Pope Francis "the anti-Christ".

The East Derry MLA said Mervyn Storey's remarks to Ulster Unionist Robbie Butler were "scandalous" and "well below the expected standards" of an ex-Stormont minister.

As Mr Dallat prepared to lodge his complaint with the assembly's standards commissioner, Sinn Féin's Philip McGuigan called for his fellow North Antrim MLA to apologise for his offensive outburst.

The Irish News revealed on Thursday that Mr Storey and his DUP colleague Christopher Stalford criticised and ridiculed Mr Butler for accepting an invitation from the taoiseach to a civic reception for Pope Francis.

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The former Stormont finance minister challenged the Lagan Valley MLA in the Stormont corridor, where he referred to the pontiff as "the anti-Christ", while Mr Stalford blessed himself as he passed Mr Butler, later describing the gesture as a "joke" between friends.

DUP leader Arlene Foster snubbed August's invitation to the Dublin Castle reception for the Pope and unlike other Stormont parties did not send a representative in her place.

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Today The Irish News has printed an extract of its interview with Mr Butler after he claimed Thursday's article revealing the names of the two DUP MLAs responsible for displaying anti-Catholic sentiment was "not a fair representation".

When the story highlighting the abuse he received was first published earlier this week with the names of those responsible withheld at the Ulster Unionist MLA's request, he raised no concerns about its content.

Last night Mr McGuigan said Mr Storey's remarks were "completely unacceptable" and displayed a "complete lack of respect for people with differing religious beliefs to his own".

"Mervyn himself needs to apologise for these bizarre remarks and the DUP need to clearly deal with the almost daily displays of disrespect from their elected representatives," the Sinn Féin representative said.

Mr Dallat said he felt compelled to complain about the two DUP MLAs after learning that their own party was failing to impose any sanctions.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson initially said he wanted to "get the full facts" about the incidents but said after speaking to Mr Butler, considered the matter "closed".

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Mr Dallat conceded that the role of the assembly standards commissioner currently lay vacant and would not be filled before devolution was restored. However, he said any newly-appointed standards watchdog would find his complaint "waiting in their in-tray".

"I previously respected Mervyn Storey but I found his behaviour in this instance scandalous and well below the expected standards of somebody who was part of a power-sharing executive," he said.

"Unless we MLAs set standards and abide by them how can we expect others to emulate us."

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