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I may be a devout Catholic but I will vote for DUP, says ex-SDLP mayor

(Liam Clarke, Belfast Telegraph)

A former SDLP politician has said he intends voting DUP because it is closer to Catholic morality than either of the nationalist parties.

Danny O'Connor also said he would consider joining the party or even standing for it, even though he does not think of himself as unionist.

The former mayor of Larne and SDLP MLA has been an outspoken critic of loyalist paramilitaries and his home has been attacked by bricks and petrol bombs. He is also a former UDR soldier and a strong opponent of republican violence.

"First and foremost I am a Roman Catholic – that guides me – and I believe DUP policies are more in keeping with Catholic teaching than the nationalist parties," he told the Belfast Telegraph. He shares the DUP's strong opposition to same sex marriage and their tough line against any relaxation of the abortion legislation. "As things currently stand, the only party that I would feel comfortable about supporting on religious grounds would be the DUP," he said. "If some other party came forward that was in line with Catholic teaching I would consider that. The unionist bit doesn't worry me.

"I consider myself an Irishman, I carry an Irish passport and I would vote for a united Ireland in a referendum but I suppose I am open to persuasion. Everything else is subservient to being a Catholic."

O'Connor has clashed with the DUP in the past. For instance, on one occasion he called Bobby McKee, a DUP councillor, "stumpy". Mr McKee, a former UVF member, lost both legs in an IRA bomb attack in 1974.

"I apologised and we reconciled," Mr O'Connor said.

"You know where you stand with the DUP; they are men of their word, and that is more important than being nationalist or unionist."

DUP leader Peter Robinson has been calling for people from across the community, including Catholics, to support his party.

Mr O' Connor is the third politician from outside the DUP's traditional support base to look sympathetically at the party. The others are Adam Harbinson, an Alliance councillor in North Down who resigned from his party, and Terry Andrews, a former SDLP councillor who now sits as an independent on Down District Council.

Mr Harbinson, a born-again Protestant, is poised to join the DUP and a formal announcement is expected on December 18.

Like Mr O'Connor he was attracted by the DUP's opposition to gay marriage. Asked if he was also considering the UUP, he said "not many people want to jump aboard a sinking ship".

Mr Andrews, a Catholic, has attended the last two DUP conferences.

"Peter Robinson is moving the DUP in the right way but there is a lot of hard work and it would be a leap of faith to join it at this point," he said.

He compared his situation to that of David McClarty, the East Londonderry MLA who left the Ulster Unionist Party to stand successfully as an independent.

He said: "When people elected me as an independent I feel I should fulfil that mandate until the council elections in 2014. After that we will see."

Unlike most DUP members, he is not a firmly committed unionist.

"I consider myself Irish," he said. "At the same time... I respect what the people want. If there was a border poll I would consider the situation at the time."

Danny O'Connor became the first nationalist mayor of Larne after being nominated by two unionists in 2006. When he served as an SDLP MLA between 1998 and 2003, his home suffered loyalist attacks, some of which he blamed on the UDA. He resigned from the SDLP last year, citing its support for same sex civil partnerships. He is active in Cursillo, a lay Catholic organisation.

December 7, 2012

This article appeared in the December 4, 2012 edition of the Belfast Telegraph.



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