Varadkar: Arlene Foster attendance at Ulster GAA final an important gesture

Taoiseach says DUP leader’s presence at Donegal v Fermanagh game should be welcomed by everyone

 

The attendance of Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster at the Ulster GAA senior football final was a significant gesture that would help the cause of reconciliation on this island, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Ms Foster became the first DUP leader to attend an Ulster Final on Sunday, where she watched her native Fermanagh being outplayed by Donegal in Clones, Co Monaghan.

She was accompanied by the Fine Gael Minister for Jobs and Employment Heather Humphreys as well as the Government chief whip Joe McHugh. Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill also sat close to Ms Foster at the game and took “selfie” photographs of the group.

The DUP leader was warmly applauded by supporters from both sides upon her arrival at the ground for the sold-out game.

Giving his first reaction to The Irish Times on Monday Mr Varadkar said: “I am really pleased that Ms Foster attended the Ulster Final yesterday in Clones and her words about reconciliation.

“Attending the match was an important gesture which should be welcomed by everyone. I am only sorry it wasn’t a better day for Fermanagh on the pitch.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described Ms Foster attending the GAA fixture as a “significant, warm gesture of friendship” but stressed “resolution of outstanding issues” were required to resolve the political impasse at Stormont.

Ms Foster’s attendance on Sunday comes ahead of another significant step next week when she will attend an LGBT event at Stormont.

Her party remains implacably opposed to same-sex marriages.

Speaking before the game on Sunday, Ms Foster said: “I do realise that there might be some people who may be uncomfortable, with me being here today on Sunday but let me say this I am a leader of a political party that promotes a shared society in Northern Ireland and to do that you have to take steps,” she said.

The Government did not disclose the fact that Ms Humphreys would accompany Ms Foster ahead of the game for security reasons. Ms Humphreys’s office did not response to queries asking about her attendance at Clones in advance of the final.

The Minister’s office said afterwards that Ms Humphreys had given her word that she would not inform the media and had told no one about her intentions despite a number of requests. She was on a trip to Los Angeles until Saturday.

At the game on Sunday, Ms Foster and party colleague Christopher Stalford stood with the rest of the sell out crowd as the Irish national anthem was played.