Derry Presbyterian clergyman Rev David Latimer has said he is looking forward to speaking at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall tonight.
The announcement that Rev Latimer will speak at the event tonight sparked an angry reaction from East Derry DUP MP Gregory Campbell. However, senior elders at the First Derry Presbyterian Church have said the majority of the congregation support Rev Latimer’s move.
Rev Latimer dismissed the DUP MP’s criticism and said he stands by his decision to accept the invite to address the Ard Fheis. “I think Gregory Campbell needs to take a look at himself and leave people within a democratic society to view things in their own way.
“This country suffered from two great evils — ignorance and hatred. We have been separated for so long we have had no opportunity to understand the ‘other side,’ which then spilled over into hatred and violence.
“We need to envision what can be. This is the only way we can do this – to live together, talk together so we can have a better chance of not going back to the past. There has to be wise and brave leadership shown. I am not stupid and I will not be used by anybody,” he said.
The clergyman said it is his duty to engage with people. “I would like people within a wider audience to hear first hand the difference that moving outside your own comfort zone of isolation and poor relations can in effect make. I think I would be judged very unfavourably by God if I were to refuse to go and engage with any other group of people,” he explained.
It is the first time the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis has been held north of the Border and more than 2,00 delegates are expected to attend. Local Sinn Féin councillor Michael Cooper said; “We expect there to be a lot of interest in this weekends Ard Fheis as it is the first time that it’s been held in the Six Counties. RTE and BBC will screen the live sessions on the Saturday morning at 11am and Gerry Adams will give the Presidential Address which will be broadcast at 8.30pm on Saturday night,” colr. Cooper said.
The party is also expected to announce its presidential candidate.