Looking back... Mixed reaction to plans for papal visit

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The Pope’s decision to visit Ireland, and possibly Northern Ireland, was greeted with mixed reactions by members of Newtownabbey Borough Council in July 1979.

Councillor May Harkness was opposed to the papal visit, saying: “It is a bit late after ten years to talk about coming on a mission of peace.

“I am not just referring to the present Pope but to the establishment in general. What would have been wrong with someone speaking out at the height of the Troubles.”

Alliance councillor Pat McCudden said: “Since the Primate of All-Ireland is in Armagh, it seems obvious for the Pope to come north. He is a great ambassador and has brought a new dimension to the office.

“If the Pope does come to the province, it will not be as head of state, he will be on a religious visit.”

Councillor McCudden pointed out that whatever decision would be taken, one side of the “political divide” would be disappointed.