Northern Ireland

Pope 'may visit Ireland in 2012' says Martin McGuinness

The Pope could visit Ireland in 2012, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness has said.

Northern Ireland's deputy first minister was asked at a Stormont committee meeting about why he and First Minister Peter Robinson did not meet the Pope last week in Scotland.

Mr McGuinness said it was a British state visit and he would be pleased to meet the Pope when he visited Ireland.

"I also have some grounds for believing that could happen as soon as 2012," he added.

The Sinn Fein MP made his comments in response to criticism by the SDLP's Dolores Kelly.

Mr Robinson joked that Ms Kelly was annoyed that the pontiff had wanted to see him and Mr McGuinness rather than her.

Both men had said they already had a prior commitment last Thursday to attend the opening of the New York Stock Exchange's new premises in Belfast

Mr Robinson said on Wednesday that the jobs announcement was a key part of their diary.

"It was important that we were there and right that we were there," said the DUP leader.

Pope Benedict XVI shook hands with the first ministers of Scotland and Wales during a royal reception at Holyrood House in Edinburgh last Thursday.

The Queen and the Pope praised each other's institutions on their role in helping the Northern Ireland peace process.