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Belfast council votes to invite Pope Francis to city
02 April 2014 11:21 by James Macintyre

Belfast City Council has voted to invite Pope Francis to visit the city.

No member of the Council voted against the decision to issue the formal visit, and there were 30 votes in favour.

The Democratic Unionist Party abstained, while Nationalists from the Social Democratic and Labour Party [SDLP], Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party voted in favour.

The move follows a unanimous vote in February in the Seanad, Ireland’s Upper House, to extend an invitation for Pope Francis to visit the Republic.

The SDLP motion in Belfast read: “This council notes that the Irish Seanad, on 19 February, unanimously passed a motion by Senator David Norris, inviting Pope Francis to visit Ireland.

“Should the Holy Father accept that invitation, this council invites him, as a man of faith, peace and reconciliation, to visit the city of Belfast and calls upon the Northern Ireland Assembly to extend a similar invitation.”

The DUP accused Nationalists of a “stunt,” with Councillor Lee Reynolds saying the motion “wasn’t a game we were willing to play”. He added: “They were wanting an insult and we weren’t going to give them that, so we chose the path of abstention.”

The vote means that City Hall will now write to the Pope requesting that he consider visiting the city were he to make a trip to Ireland.

Pope John Paul II visited Ireland in 1979. Though he was forced to cancel plans to visit Northern Ireland after an intense bout of violence he celebrated Mass on the banks of the river Boyne in the Archdiocese of Armagh.