McAleese: Protestant children taught to hate Catholics
President Mary McAleese was at the centre of a sectarian row tonight after claiming Protestant children in the North were taught to hate Catholics in the same way Nazis despised Jews.
It provoked outrage among unionists who accused her of vilifying an entire community.
President McAleese assessment came during ceremonies to mark the 60th anniversary of the Auschwitz concentration camp liberation.
Anti-Semitism that existed for decades had been built upon by the Nazis, she said.
“They gave to their children an irrational hatred of Jews in the same way that people in Northern Ireland transmitted to their children an irrational hatred of Catholics, in the same way that people give to their children an outrageous and irrational hatred of those who are of different colour and all of those things.”
Unionists were astonished and incensed by the comparison from a head of state who has cited strengthening cross-community relations as a key aim of her Presidency.
She has held talks with Ulster Defence Association representatives in some of Belfast’s most staunchly Protestant districts.
But the efforts of Mrs McAleese, a working-class Catholic once burnt out of her home in the west of the city by loyalists, appeared in jeopardy tonight.
Ian Paisley Jr, a Democratic Unionist Assembly member, said: “So much for bridge-building Mary.
“Her comments are completely irrational and are designed to insult the integrity of the Protestant community and damn an entire generation of Protestant people.
“Her mask as being a healer of divided peoples has slipped.
“She is spewing out hatred of the Protestant community, whilst accusing those same people of hating Catholics.”
Mrs McAleese, who had joined survivors and over 40 heads of state for the memorial ceremonies in southern Poland, has courted controversy in the past.
In 1997, during her first term in office, she stirred up an unholy row by taking communion at Dublin’s Anglican Cathedral.
The city’s Catholic Archbishop, Desmond Connell, described it as a sham.
Unionist fury is still raw over Sinn Fein claims that the IRA gang who abducted and secretly murdered west Belfast woman Jean McConville were guilty of no crime.
One of the so-called “disappeared”, the mother of 10 was seized from her home in 1972 after going to the aid of a wounded soldier.
Her remains were finally found on a Co Louth beach 30 years later.
With Sinn Féin chairman Mitchel McLaughlin insisting Mrs McConville’s murder was not a criminal act, Mr Paisley challenged the President to be as critical of IRA violence.
“I don’t know of any Protestant community that teaches hatred of Catholics,” he added.
“I know of a community that teaches Love Thy Neighbour, even though for the last 34 years they have been tortured, tormented and murdered by violent republicanism.
“The same republicanism that this week said murdering a defenceless woman is not a crime.
“Her silence on Mitchel McLaughlin’s definition of the IRA being legitimate is in stark contrast to her wanton abuse of the Protestant people on this issue.”
A spokesperson for the President’s office tonight declined to make any further comment.