Northern Ireland news

Ruth Patterson: 'St Patrick was a Protestant'

Ex-DUP councillor Ruth Patterson described St Patrick as a "former Protestant". Picture by Bill Smith
Brendan Hughes

High-profile unionist councillor Ruth Patterson has claimed St Patrick was a Protestant.

The former DUP politician made the bizarre claim during an interview yesterday on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme.

Criticising youths draped in tricolours on St Patrick's Day, the Belfast councillor said: "At the end of the day the tricolour has nothing to do with St Patrick.

"St Patrick himself was a former Protestant."

Presenter William Crawley pointed out that St Patrick couldn't have been a Protestant as he lived long before the Reformation, "a thousand years before Protestants existed".

Ms Patterson said: "Yes. I see where you're coming from, certainly I see him as having been a former Protestant."

The councillor was speaking after urging a "rethink" from those planning to hold a Union flag protest on St Patrick's Day outside Belfast City Hall.

Despite being a prominent supporter of flag protests in the past, she said the demonstrators should "divert their energy into seeking to make a change via the democratic process".

But yesterday she denied that her stance was "electioneering".

Ms Patterson was expelled from the DUP in November after criticising the party when it overlooked her by appointing former special adviser Emma Pengelly to fill the South Belfast assembly seat vacated by Jimmy Spratt.

She will now stand against Ms Pengelly as an independent assembly candidate in May's elections, with her campaign is being managed by loyalist flag protester turned blogger Jamie Bryson.

Ms Patterson also said she disagreed with a controversial leaflet campaign targeted at the Alliance Party during the Union flag dispute in 2012.

Thousands of the leaflets were distributed by DUP and UUP activists and were blamed for heightening tensions in Belfast ahead of a vote by councillors to limit the flying of the flag at city hall to designated days.

The decision sparked widespread protests by loyalists, some descending into serious violence.

"I said to my party group under no circumstances will I take anything to do with the production of these leaflets, the payment for these leaflets, or the delivery of these leaflets," Ms Patterson said.

"I did not agree with them in any shape or form."

Ms Patterson's voice also faltered yesterday as she became emotional while describing her relationship with the DUP.

"I loved the DUP. I still love them to a degree. They were a political party I was a member of for 20 years. I'm very proud of that," she said.

"I now have the freedom to say what I really want to say, and the one thing that I really want to do is lead my unionist people."

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