31.1.05

Belfast Telegraph

McAleese visit will go ahead as planned
Tour of Protestant area confirmed


By Senan Molony
31 January 2005

President Mary McAleese will go ahead with a visit to Belfast in three-and-a-half weeks' time despite the controversy over her remarks about religious discrimination.

Mrs McAleese's official spokeswoman confirmed that the February 24 visit, already cleared by the Government, will go ahead as planned. It is due to include a trip to a Protestant area of Belfast.

While the President will address Catholic students in St Malachy's College, the balancing engagement in the Protestant community was due to be reviewed by her staff today.

The nature of the appointment was not being disclosed last night, but former Belfast Lord Mayor Hugh Smyth said she would not be welcome on the Shankill Road.

And an Ulster Unionist Assembly member, Derek Hussey, said she should resign in spite of her apology for comparing hatred of Catholics in Northern Ireland with Nazi hatred for the Jews.

She later said she should have described all sectarian hatred in the terms she used during a radio interview.

Mr Hussey said: "Unlike my colleague Michael McGimpsey, I do not accept the Irish President's apology nor that this matter should now be over.

"Mrs McAleese has, irrevocably insulted the Protestant people of all of Ireland, caused untold damage to ongoing peace efforts in Northern Ireland and tainted the integrity of her position as Head of State of the Republic.

"Belated clumsy efforts at papering over the cracks in an effort to save her own skin just don't measure up to the enormity of what she has implied. Mary McAleese should do the right thing and resign."

Meanwhile, reports that Buckingham Palace had called off an official trip to Ireland by the Queen in the wake of the President's "Nazi" comparisons were being denied in both London and Dublin yesterday.

A spokeswoman for Aras an Uachtarain said there had been no definitive plans made for the monarch to visit Ireland. An informal invitation had been extended on more than one occasion.

"The President has said that she would welcome a visit by the Queen. But the timing of such a visit would be a matter for the two Governments.

"No formal invitations have issued and there are no plans in place for such a visit," said a spokeswoman.

She confirmed that the President and Dr Martin McAleese had been "in constant contact" with their friends on both sides in Northern Ireland since the storm broke over the President's radio remarks for which she later abjectly apologised.

While the matter was now considered closed, the President was grateful for the speedy acceptance of her retraction of the remarks by senior figures in the Protestant and Unionist communities, the spokeswoman added.

A security review of all aspects of the February 24 programme of engagements is likely shortly before the President is due to visit Northern Ireland.

Her spokesman said that many receptions planned in the interim for the Aras, which included a significant Northern element, as was the President's custom, would go ahead as normal.

The spokesman declined to comment on any special security measures that might be taken in connection with the Belfast visit in the next number of weeks, citing long-stated policy. She said, however: "The President is very happy and very relieved that her apology has been accepted."

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