Clash over president's Belfast visit

Two policing board members clashed today on the eve of a meeting between Irish President Mary McAleese and the North’s most senior police officer in Belfast.

Two policing board members clashed today on the eve of a meeting between President Mary McAleese and the North’s most senior police officer in Belfast.

The SDLP’s Alex Attwood defended the president’s visit to the North and said she had made a significant contribution to breaking down barriers.

But the DUP’s Ian Paisley Jnr questioned the reasons behind the trip and claimed Chief Constable Hugh Orde should have consulted the Policing Board.

The president will also visit staff, children and parents at a primary school on the Shankill Road.

Mrs McAleese put off plans to visit the unionist heartland in January after a row broke out over remarks she made about Protestant sectarianism.

Mr Attwood dismissed the DUP’s criticism of the president’s visit.

“Increasing numbers of people don’t take Ian Jnr seriously,” the West Belfast MLA said.

“Mary McAleese has done more than virtually any other citizen to try to build bridges on the island of Ireland.

“People appreciate her work. They do not see her in any way in the terms outlined by Ian Jnr.”

Mrs McAleese caused a political storm after she compared the irrational hatred of Jews by Hitler’s Nazi movement to an irrational hatred of Catholics passed on by people in the North to their children.

The president apologised in person on RTE radio the following day.

Ulster Unionists accepted her retraction and they said the matter was closed, but the leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) David Ervine said the damage was long-term.

Mr Attwood called on the DUP and the PUP to move on.

He said: “She apologised for those remarks, which was the measure of her.

“The fact that other people make remarks and don’t apologise for them is a measure of them.

“Most people know she got it wrong and then she got it right by apologising and cancelling her visit.

“I think those people in the Shankill will see it that way.”

The president and Hugh Orde are due to meet at the headquarters of the Police Service of Northern Ireland in east Belfast tomorrow morning.

Following the meeting, Mrs McAleese will travel to Edenbrooke Primary School in the Shankhill area to meet teachers and pupils and the board of governors.

She also plans to visit a school in Taughmonagh, a loyalist estate in the south of the city, and Aquinas Grammar School and Nazareth House care home on the Ravenhill Road.

Mrs McAleese has made more than 60 official visits to the North.

Mr Paisley Jnr condemned the meeting and claimed it was a political move designed to help the IRA.

The North Antrim MLA said: “The decision by the chief constable to meet with the head of state of Dublin is a highly political meeting that ought not to take place.

“The chief constable has nothing to report to Mary McAleese. He has no operational requirement to report to her and certainly she has no right to meet with the chief constable when policing remains in the hands of the Northern Ireland Office.

“What is more, the decision to meet was not raised with the Police Board.

“All sense of protocol has been abandoned and all to assist a visit by someone who has done her best to insult the majority of people here by likening them to Nazis.”

Mr Paisley called on Hugh Orde to explain why he is meeting “the head of a foreign state” and questioned whether he would be accompanied by the Security Minister.

He added: “The chief constable has stated on a number of occasions that he is not involved in politics yet this is a significantly political visit that is choreographed to assist the IRA at a time when their statement has fallen on deaf ears.”

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