Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster has spoken about how she shared power with Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, despite him having attended the funeral of the man suspected of a gun attack on her father.
Arlene Foster, who is leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), is serving her second term as the leader of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing administration.
During her first term, McGuinness was deputy first minister with equal power before the administration collapsed in January 2017. McGuinness, a former IRA commander, died two months later from a rare heart condition.
Foster attended his funeral in Derry, despite the fact that McGuinness had given an oration at the funeral of IRA member Seamus McElwaine, the man suspected of involvement in the gun attack on her policeman father John Kelly at their farmhouse home in rural Fermanagh in 1979.
She told RTE’s Late Late Show on Friday that it “was very difficult” at McGuinness’ funeral because he had given the oration at the funeral of her father’s suspected IRA attacker. But she insisted it did not color the working relationship between her and McGuinness.
She told host Ryan Tubridy, “I got on quite well with Martin – you may say that is very strange given his background and given my background, but I think we have to make choices and, to me, reconciliation actually starts with the individual.
“As leaders we have to show that we want to move forward and do things differently for our children and to give them hope, but reconciliation has to start with the person as well, so I had to see beyond what he had done in the past and I am sure he had to look beyond who I was as well, as a strong unionist.”
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She revealed that she lost friends after she went to McGuinness’ funeral in Derry.
“But I still believe it was the right thing to do,” she said. “I took the view that I served with him in government, that I worked with him in government and it was only the right, the Christian thing to do, to pay my respects to somebody who had passed away.
“As a leader you have things to do that you may not do if you were just an ordinary citizen and that’s why I had to do it.”
Foster’s 23-minute interview occurred at the time Britain was officially departing from the European Union.
She told viewers, “We are leaving the European Union tonight, the United Kingdom leaves, but that doesn’t mean we are not still neighbors and I wanted to send out the message that we are and will continue to be neighbors.
“I felt the most easy way to do that was to come here and to be on your show – to say that whilst we are leaving the institutions of the European Union we are leaving Europe and we are certainly not leaving the island of Ireland and we will continue to have those neighborly relations.”
She added that for her it rankled when Boris Johnson and his British government created a border down the Irish Sea partly separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K.
But she refused to acknowledge Tubridy’s term that the DUP had been “shafted” by Johnson.