McAleese row over Nazi comments

Mary McAleese has been criticised by unionists

Mary McAleese is at the centre of a row after claiming Northern Ireland children were taught to hate Catholics in the same way Nazis despised Jews.

The Irish president made the comments on RTE radio before attending ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the Auschwitz liberation.

The DUP's Ian Paisley Jnr said her comments were irrational and insulting.

President McAleese said the anti-semitism that existed for decades had been built upon by the Nazis.

"They gave to their children an irrational hatred of Jews in the same way that people in Northern Ireland transmitted to their children an irrational hatred of Catholics, in the same way that people give to their children an outrageous and irrational hatred of those who are of different colour and all of those things," she said.

Mrs McAleese joined survivors and over 40 heads of state for memorial ceremonies in southern Poland on Thursday.

She made the comments in an interview for RTE's Morning Ireland programme.

Responding, Mr Paisley Jnr said: "So much for bridge-building Mary.

"Her comments are completely irrational and are designed to insult the integrity of the Protestant community and damn an entire generation of Protestant people.

"Her mask as being a healer of divided peoples has slipped. She is spewing out hatred of the Protestant community, whilst accusing those same people of hating Catholics."

Ulster Unionist assembly member Michael McGimpsey said the comments would outrage people on both sides of the border.

"On the one hand she has shown a clear lack of understanding and sympathy for the Jewish experience under the Nazis," he said.

"To compare the Holocaust, where six million Jews were exterminated, with Northern Ireland shows a total lack of understanding and sympathy."

Remarks defended

The former Church of Ireland Archdeacon of Dublin, Gordon Linney, also criticised her comments.

"Frankly, I was shocked and saddened because... of her choice of words," he said.

"If she'd made a political statement that would be for others to discuss, but the fact that she used the word Catholic suggests that people on the other side were Protestant.

"In that sense I was hurt and offended.

Mark Durkan said the president had a "record of bridge building"

However, President McAleese's remarks have been defended by senior Catholic clergyman, Monsignor Denis Faul.

He said she was just giving an example of bigotry adding: "She could have just as easily have given an example of political bigotry from the Catholics."

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said the Holocaust could teach everyone "lessons about the danger of unchecked prejudice and unchallenged persecution".

"The Holocaust memorial event in the north has always referred to the lessons for our own society, which has its own prejudices around difference," he said.

"We believe that it was this that the president was saying, as she will be able to show from her own record of bridge-building.

"We do not believe that she was attempting to equate directly any of the prejudices which exist in the north with the systematic policies of deadly hatred of the Nazi regime."

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