12 May 2006

How low can it go?

Daily Ireland

Ballymena DUP councillor’s comments on murdered teenager cause outrage - ‘As a Catholic, he [Michael McIlveen] won’t get into heaven. Catholics are not accepted into heaven’ - DUP Councillor Roy Gillespie

by Ciarán Barnes

A Democratic Unionist Party councillor in Ballymena has sparked outrage after he claimed that a Catholic murdered in a sectarian attack in the town “will not get into heaven” because of his religious beliefs.
As the family of Michael McIlveen prepare to bury the 15-year-old, DUP politician Roy Gillespie said he would not attend Monday’s funeral because it is being held in a Catholic church.
Mr Gillespie, a Protestant evangelical, made his comments after the McIlveen family invited Ian Paisley, the DUP leader and North Antrim MP, to the funeral.
Mr Paisley, the leader of the Free Presbyterian church and a staunch opponent of Catholicism, has yet to respond to the offer.
If Mr Paisley does attend, he will face fierce criticism from within his own church, particularly from hardliners such as Mr Gillespie.
Speaking to Daily Ireland yesterday, Mr Gillespie said his party leader had to decide for himself whether to attend the teenager’s funeral.
The borough councillor said: “I won’t be going to the funeral. Stepping foot in a Catholic church is against my religious beliefs.
“The Pope is the Antichrist and is the head of the Catholic church, which is not a true church or faith. I’m not going to listen to Mass in a Catholic church. I don’t care if it’s at a funeral, wedding or whatever else.”
Mr Gillespie said he prayed that Catholics would be saved. He said that, if Catholics did not repent before they died, they “will not get into heaven”.
“As a Catholic, he [Michael McIlveen] won’t get into heaven unless he has been saved. If he did not repent before he died and asked the Lord into his heart, he will not get into heaven. Catholics are not accepted into heaven.”
Mr Gillespie’s comments sparked a furious response from politicians angry at the timing of his remarks.
North Antrim Sinn Féin assembly member Philip McGuigan said: “Mr Gillespie’s sentiments are disgraceful, especially as they come so soon after a 15-year-old was murdered as a result of sectarian bigotry.
“This is the kind of attitude that causes others to carry out attacks fuelled by religious hatred. There is no excuse for these comments.”
Ballymena SDLP councillor Declan O’Loan described Mr Gillespie’s comments as unfortunate.
“There has been a wave of emotion and sympathy towards the McIlveen family. For anyone to say something that is not of this accord is very out of order indeed,” he said.
“This is not a positive contribution to good community relations in Ballymena.”
Inviting Mr Paisley to the funeral, Michael’s uncle Francis McIlveen said: “I would like him to be there. He was the first one to ring me at the hospital. He is the MP for the area and, to me, he has the right to be there.
“It doesn’t matter what anybody else says, it is what we want. If he wants to come, then he is more than welcome.”
Organisers of a loyalist band parade that is scheduled to pass the spot where Michael McIlveen was murdered are understood to be in talks aimed at postponing the march.
The Ballykeel Loyal Sons of Ulster originally planned to march through Ballymena on May 20.
Churchmen in the town have asked the band to postpone the parade to ease tension.
Sinn Féin yesterday cancelled its north Antrim hunger strike commemorations to help improve community relations.

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