A time and a place…

THE brutal murder of Michael McIlveen has sparked outrage in Ballymena, but there was controversy on Talkback today in a discussion of Daily Ireland’s front page which reported a local DUP councillor as saying: “As a Catholic, he [Michael McIlveen] won’t get into heaven. Catholics are not accepted into heaven”. One reason is because the full quote is not carried on the front page. The councillor quoted is Roy Gillespie, a Protestant hardliner with few media skills. But even Gillespie, whom I’m no fan of, qualified his remarks, as the full quote read:

“As a Catholic, he [Michael McIlveen] won’t get into heaven unless he has been saved. If he did not repent before he died and asked the Lord into his heart, he will not get into heaven. Catholics are not accepted into heaven.”

On Talkback, Gillespie claimed he was misquoted, while the reporter, Ciaran Barnes – a clever and capable reporter who robustly defended his story to the hilt – respectfully disagreed. My view is that Gillespie was misquoted on the front page (beyond a reporter’s control), as Gilllespie’s qualifying ‘if…’ had been replaced by a full stop. The cover gave the impression that the comment ended where it clearly did not.

While Gillespie’s remarks may well have been ill-timed and delivered with the kind of blunt tactlessness you might expect from him, the front page headline just did not include the qualification in the statement.

But why was this a story in the first place? After all, Bannside councillor Roy Gillespie does not represent the area the McIlveens lived in, so why seek him out?

Nor can I think of any public interest in Gillespie’s views on the afterlife of Catholics. No, he won’t attend the (Catholic) funeral of the murder victim because of his deeply-held religious beliefs, but so what? There are other ways of paying respect to the dead. I’d be more interested to know if Gillespie is or will be signing the book of condolence that the DUP mayor has signed.

However, Gillespie – a foot-in-mouth politician who isn’t the sharpest tool in the box and admittedly has trouble separating politics and religion at the best of times – chose to answer the question in his own inimitable fashion, instead of replying ‘No comment’, as most media-savvy politicians would. So why encourage him? Why ask a DUP politician for his theological perspective on a Catholic soul when the Catholic Church would be better qualified? What were Gillespie’s views on the relevant issue, the murder? We don’t know, as they weren’t reported, assuming he had been asked for them.

Roy Gillespie’s comments were undoubtedly badly timed and predictably distasteful, but at least he was forthright and honest in his views. What purpose his views serve at this time are another matter. One suspects that the magnanimous attitude demonstrated by the McIlveens to the DUP party leader at this distressing time might have been the real target; it simply wouldn’t do for the DUP to be responding in the politically-correct ‘right’ way, now would it? The McIlveens have called for a time of healing in Ballymena, where tensions are still high, and while Gillespie might struggle with the concept, Daily Ireland didn’t wish to abide by that call either.

I don’t like Gillespie, nor am I fond of his extreme views and it almost pains me to defend a bigot on automatic-evangelic pilot, but on this occasion, I think he was stitched up big time. It’s a unseemly and unnecessary row over an ideological irrelevance in the wake of a poor kid’s murder.