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Last Updated: Monday, 21 February, 2005, 10:12 GMT
McAleese cancels Shankill visit
Mary McAleese
Mary McAleese has been criticised by unionists
The Irish Republic's President, Mary McAleese, has cancelled plans to visit the Shankill Road in Belfast.

In January she said children in Northern Ireland were taught to hate Catholics in the same way Nazis taught theirs to despise Jews.

She later said she was "deeply sorry" for the offence her remarks caused, but some unionists were not mollified.

Shankill community worker Baroness May Blood said the president had made the right decision in cancelling the visit.

"First of all, I am glad she has taken the decision not to come because if she had taken the decision to push on with the visit it would have put local people in a position where they would not have known what to do," she said.

Auschwitz liberation

"If I was advising the president, I would say let the dog lie for a while and then perhaps invite people down to her home in Dublin, which she has done before, or perhaps meet other people and try and build these bridges.

"I'm sure Mary McAleese has the skills to do it, but it will take a bit of time on the Shankill."

Mrs McAleese had been due to go to Edenbrooke Primary School during a visit to Belfast on Thursday.

Unionist politicians had called on her to call off the visit in the wake of the controversy.

A joint statement from the DUP, Ulster Unionists and Progressive Unionists said the apology had not undone the offence.

There was a great deal of anger among people who live locally at Mary McAleese's words
Diane Dodds
The DUP's West Belfast MLA Diane Dodds said she was relieved that the president had called off her visit.

"There was a great deal of anger among people who live locally at Mary McAleese's words, and not only anger at her words but there was anger at her delay in apologising for her words," she said.

Ulster Unionist councillor for the area, Chris McGimpsey, said Mrs McAleese would be welcomed back to the Shankill Road in the future, but the time was not right now.

"I think the president did not realise the depth of hurt she caused and the deepness of the anger that that has caused also," he said.

"I think to have come now would not have been a sensible approach because I don't feel it would have helped the cause of reconciliation which she has involved herself in over the past seven years.

"The time is not right just now, in the future when the thing has resolved a little, that would be the time to reissue an invitation."

'Personally devastated'

Mrs McAleese made the comments before attending ceremonies marking 60 years since Auschwitz was liberated.

"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, for example, 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," she said.

However, Mrs McAleese later said she regretted her remarks and that sectarianism was a "shared problem".

She said she was "personally absolutely devastated" by the furore, that her critics had been "absolutely right" and acknowledged she had been clumsy and had hurt people.

Inaugurated as the Irish head of state in 1997, Mary McAleese is the first president to come from Northern Ireland and is now in her second term of office.

BBC NI's Dublin correspondent Shane Harrison:
"The president was urged by local politicians to postpone her visit because of continuing ill-feeling over her remarks"

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