First Derry Presbyterian minister Rev David Latimer has defended his comments at the Sinn Féin ard fheis at the weekend when he described Martin McGuinness as one of “one of the great leaders of modern times.”
Rev Latimer’s remarks at the Waterfront Hall on Friday night attracted criticism from some unionist politicians and relatives of victims of IRA violence but the clergyman said he received messages of support from many of his parishioners.
The Presbyterian minister received a standing ovation from the large crowd of more than 2,000 Sinn Féin delegates when he was introduced onto the stage at the Waterfront Hall by Sinn Féin leader Martin McGuinness.
In his introduction, Mr McGuinness said; “No doubt David will say things which will challenge many of us in the hall. And likewise, David will hear things that will challenge his view of the future. “
Praising the Deputy First Minister, Rev Latimer said; “Martin, I see you as one of the true, great leaders of modern times. You and I Martin regard ourselves to be brothers within the same human family, a worldwide diverse family which, despite its flaws and imperfections, is loved by God.”
The outspoken cleric also said he and Mr McGuinness were “now firm friends who were able to easily relax in each other’s company” and said that he hopes for a time when other unionists will share his view.
“My prayer is that he will be empowered and envisioned to take us forward in the inclusive way he is committed to. I hope he gets the support from within other parties because it is together that we are going to build the future better and brighter,” he said.
East Derry DUP MP Gregory Campbell criticised Rev Latimer and a grandson of a victim of the 1972 Claudy bombing described the move as “wrong.”
In response, Rev Latimer said; “I have to recognise there are people within my own community who probably would be seeing that I was amongst people on Friday night who were involved in the past. But people change.”