Irish president visiting Belfast

Mary McAleese is visiting Belfast

President of the Irish Republic Mary McAleese is to visit Belfast on Thursday.

Earlier in the week she cancelled her plans to visit Edenbrooke primary school on the loyalist Shankill Road.

Unionist politicians had called on her to call off the visit after comments she made comparing prejudice against NI Catholics with Nazi hatred of Jews.

She will attend Belfast City Hospital, Hannahstown Community Centre and St Malachy's College during the visit.

Mrs McAleese made the controversial comments before attending ceremonies marking 60 years since Auschwitz was liberated.

She later said she regretted her remarks and that sectarianism was a "shared problem".

The president said she was "personally absolutely devastated" by the furore, that her critics had been "absolutely right" and acknowledged she had been clumsy and had hurt people.

However, unionists said it would take time for the hurt caused by the remarks to abate and welcomed her decision to cancel the visit to the mainly loyalist Shankill.

Ulster Unionist councillor for the area, Chris McGimpsey, said Mrs McAleese would be welcomed back to the Shankill in the future, but the time was not right now.

Shankill community worker Baroness May Blood said the president had made the right decision in cancelling the visit.

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