A Catholic priest has stated that Catholics in Northern Ireland have started supporting the DUP because it is "the most consistently pro-life and pro-traditional marriage party in Northern Ireland." Fr. Owen Gorman, parish priest in Aghadrumsee, wrote in Catholic monthly newspaper 'Alive' that "Catholics have started to support Peter Robinson's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)." He believes that Catholics "whose faith informs their voting" are now less likely to vote for Sinn F�in "because Sinn F�in favours legislating for 'gay marriage' and supports the availability of abortion in certain circumstances (e.g. in cases of rape, incest, or the threat of suicide)." The outspoken cleric from Castleblaney Co. Monaghan also criticised the SDLP for its support for full marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Fr. Gorman wrote: "While Sinn F�in support remains high in the Catholic community, they do not, however, have the support of Catholics who are committed to the cause of life and marriage." He points to 12 March when Sinn Fein (joined by two Alliance MLAs and the Green Party) blocked an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill which would have banned abortions being performed by private clinics. That amendment needed cross-community support and Sinn F�in's petition of concern meant that, although 53 MLAs supported the amendment and 40 opposed, it did not win enough support from nationalist MLAs.

The breakdown of the vote was 44 unionists and nine nationalists for the abortion amendment, while 26 nationalists, five unionists and nine others voted against.

According to Fr. Gorman: "Catholics understand therefore, that a vote for Sinn F�in is a vote for the weakening of the institution of marriage and the right to life for all the unborn." He added: "Sinn F�in opposition was crucial to defeating the amendment. No wonder then that many Catholics, not wanting to betray their conscience and their faith, won't support the party." On 1 October 2012, the DUP raised a petition of concern against a joint Sinn F�in and Green Party proposal by Sinn Fein and the Green party to allow full marriage rights for same sex couples.

Fr. Gorman noted: "Unionist parties opposed the motion but both Sinn F�in and the SDLP supported it. That the SDLP lent their support to the redefinition of marriage along same-sex lines surprised and disappointed many Catholics." He concludes that Catholics "who uphold marriage" are beginning to look toward the DUP because it "promotes the biblical understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman." Fr. Gorman was abroad this week and therefore unable to explain to The Impartial Reporter his evidence of Catholic support for the DUP, particularly in Fermanagh South Tyrone, which traditionally has a nationalist majority.

In response to the priest's claims, DUP MLA Arlene Foster said: "There has been growing evidence for some time that stable devolution in Northern Ireland has allowed people to look beyond some of the traditional political barriers." She added: "There have been a number of important debates within the Assembly and at Westminster in recent months where we are aware that people from a Catholic background will have supported the DUP stance," adding that the DUP "wishes to attract support from people from every background." Sinn F�in MLA Phil Flanagan added: "Regardless of what some people attempt to portray as fact, Sinn F�in is not in favour of abortion; the party voted against the extension of the 1967 Act to the north when it was proposed in the Assembly.

"However, Sinn F�in believe that where a woman's life or mental health is at risk or in grave danger then the final decision on seeking a termination should rest with the woman." On same sex marriage, he says: "Sinn F�in, as a party, advocates the right to social, economic, gender and cultural equality. This encompasses equality for all, irrespective of race, age, marital or family status, sexual orientation, physical or mental capacities, ethnicity, social origin, political or religious affiliations, or membership of the travelling Community."