13 October 2005

Priest's apology for 'unionist Nazi' outburst falls on deaf ears


13/10/2005 - 17:47:34

The Catholic priest at the centre of a political storm after comparing Northern unionists to Nazis was deeply contrite, but still under fire, tonight.

Fr Alec Reid, one of the churchmen who witnessed IRA decommissioning last month, apologised profusely for his ill-chosen words.

He was condemned on all sides, particularly by unionists, and even by Northern Secretary Peter Hain on the floor of the House of Commons.

Challenged by Democratic Unionist MP Sammy Wilson to admonish the Redemptorist priest, Mr Hain responded: “Although Fr Alec Reid has apparently apologised for those remarks, of course I condemn what he said.”

Ulster Unionist Party leader Reg Empey said Fr Reid had destroyed confidence in the decommissioning process. “How can the word of somebody using that sort of language be taken seriously?” he asked.

The apologetic priest said he lost it in the heat of the moment during angry exchanges at a public meeting on IRA weapons decommissioning in a Belfast church last night.

Fr Reid said: “I was deeply provoked and offended by comments, many comments, about my church, my integrity and Clonard Monastery.

“In the heat of the moment I lost my temper and I deeply regret what I said. I have the highest regard for unionists and I regard them as a gifted people”.

During clashes with some audience members at the Fitzroy Presbyterian Church hall he blurted out: “The reality is that the nationalist community in Northern Ireland were treated almost like animals by the unionist community.

“They were not treated like human beings. It was like the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews.”

Fr Reid said today what he had been trying to say was that nationalists had not been given the respect they were due by unionists. “I didn’t put it very well,” he conceded.

Fr Reid added: “It was not the type of language I should have used and I regret using it. I regret very much hurting the feelings of anyone and I would like to apologise completely.

“I would like, if it were possible, to meet everyone I have offended – and I am sure I have offended people in the nationalist community as well – and apologise to them directly and allow them to express how they feel about what I said.”

William Frazer, of the victims group Families Acting for Innocent Relatives, who claim Protestants were butchered by Catholics during the Troubles, walked out of the public meeting in disgust after Fr Reid’s comments.

He refused to accept the apology. “He is trying to backtrack. Of course he would apologise after it all took place. Given the situation he is in, he had no other choice.”

It is the second time in a matter of months the Nazi accusation has been thrown at unionists.

President Mary McAleese was forced to apologise after making her comments in a radio interview marking the 60th anniversary of the Holocaust.

The Belfast-born President said Protestants had raised their children to hate Catholics in much the same way as Nazis had instilled a hatred of the Jews.

She was later forced to cancel a visit to the loyalist Shankill Road during a cross-border trip.

DUP MP Nigel Dodds said Fr Reid’s comments were far more offensive that those of the President.

“By branding an entire community as Nazis and slandering Protestants as treating Catholics like animals is outrageous.

“Thousands of Protestants volunteered to fight the Nazis and their descendants and the entire Protestant community have every right to receive a total unequivocal apology without weasel words of excuses about provocation.

“If unionists were to make similar remarks, they would be threatened with prosecution for inciting hatred. It is no defence to claim provocation.”

Mr Empey said he had been “absolutely appalled and deeply shocked” by the priest.

He said it was extremely sad he had damaged the community’s confidence in the decommissioning process.

“I am convinced that a lot of decommissioning did take place, but Fr Reid has fundamentally undermined the very work he was part of.

“With comments like that it is extremely difficult for this province to move forward.

“Decommissioning weapons is one thing, decommissioning mindsets is another.”

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