A former DUP minister who called Pope Francis “the anti-Christ” in a row over a Papal event in Ireland has been condemned by nationalists and is to be the subject of a formal complaint at Stormont.
Sinn Fein’s Philip McGuigan called for the DUP representative Mervyn Storey to apologise for the offensive outburst, which recalls those of former DUP leader Ian Paisley in the 1970s.
It emerged this week that Mr Storey and his DUP colleague Christopher Stalford made sectarian comments to Ulster Unionist representative Robbie Butler for accepting an invitation from the 26 County Taoiseach to a civic reception for Pope Francis.
No DUP representative attended the Pope’s historic visit to Ireland in a snub to the Catholic church and the 26 County government. But angrily targeting Mr Butler for accepting an invitation, Storey referred to the Pope as “the anti-Christ”, while Stalford blessed himself in a traditional anti-Catholic sneer.
Recalling how he was confronted near his Parliament Buildings office, Mr Butler said he was “stunned” by the exchanges.
“[Storey] wagged his finger at me and told me I was doing the wrong thing by agreeing to go to the civic reception, before saying: ‘Don’t you know he’s the anti-Christ?’,” he recalled.
A second encounter in the Stormont corridors saw Stalford bless himself as he passed Mr Butler, a born-again Christian and deacon.
“It was a throwback to the 1970s, I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. Mr Butler said he was “disappointed” by the DUP behaviour but felt it “validated” his decision to attend the civic reception.
“I felt it was the right thing to do - if you can’t be a good neighbour you can’t expect to have good neighbours,” he said.
Mr McGuigan said Storey’s behaviour was “completely unacceptable” and displayed a “complete lack of respect for people with differing religious beliefs to his own”.
“Mervyn himself needs to apologise for these bizarre remarks and the DUP need to clearly deal with the almost daily displays of disrespect from their elected representatives,” the North Antrim representative said.
The SDLP’s John Dallat said he felt compelled to complain about the two DUP men after learning that their own party was failing to impose any sanctions. He said Storey’s remarks were “scandalous” and “well below the expected standards” of an ex-Stormont minister. He said he is prepared to lodge his complaint with the assembly’s standards commissioner.