Pope's visit

Ian Paisley's wife backs Ulster Unionist's decision to attend papal event

Lagan Valley representative Robbie Butler will represent the UUP at Dublin Castle. Picture by Mal McCann

THE wife of MP Ian Paisley is among those voicing support for the Ulster Unionist MLA attending today's civic reception for Pope Francis in Dublin.

Lagan Valley representative Robbie Butler will represent his party in the absence of leader Robin Swann, who is instead joining the Royal Black Preceptory's 'Last Saturday' celebrations in Larne.

The leaders of Stormont's five largest parties were all invited to today's reception for Pope Francis in Dublin Castle by the taoiseach's office.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood will attend for the SDLP, and while Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill and Alliance's Naomi Long are unable to travel due to due a broken leg and a family illness respectively, their parties will be represented at the event.

DUP leader Arlene Foster declined the invitation due to family commitments, but her party has decided not to send anyone in the former first minister's place. So far the DUP has refused to explain the snub.

Also invited to the reception are members of civic society north and south, including representatives from other Churches, academics and the judiciary.

Ahead of the event, Mr Butler posted a video on Facebook saying he was delighted to be representing his party during the first papal visit to Ireland in almost 40 years.

While many people praised the Ulster Unionist MLA, who is a born-again Christian, others – including party colleagues – were critical.

Former South Down UUP MLA Harold McKee said Mr Butler "doesn't represent me as a member of the UUP".

However, Fiona Paisley, wife of North Antrim MP Ian Paisley - who is currently suspended from the DUP after being sanctioned by Westminster for failing to declare two free family holidays to Sri Lanka - gave the Lagan Valley MLA her backing.

"My head is in my hands after reading some of the replies to your post Robbie, each to their own view," she posted in response to the video.

"Always do what you think is right in your heart."

In the video, Mr Butler, who is a deacon in Maghaberry's Elim Church, said the papal visit was of major significance to hundreds of thousands of Catholics on both sides of the border.

Defending his decision to attend the Dublin event, he said: "The Ulster Unionist Party is a political party, not a religious party."

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