For the first time in Northern Ireland’s history, a DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) leader has attended the Ulster Gaelic Football final between Fermanagh and Donegal in County Monaghan on Sunday.
This move is an unprecedented one for a sitting DUP politician and is in keeping with the theme of reconciliation set forth by Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar when he was the first sitting Irish PM to visit the Orange Order in Belfast.
DUP leader Arlene Foster sat alongside Sinn Fein and an Irish TD at a GAA match today. Moments after Fermanagh lost, Donegal paid tribute to the lads asking their fans to show their support - and they did. The importance, the joy, the power of reaching out the hand of friendship. pic.twitter.com/dGHkAu1tN1— Rodney Edwards (@rodneyedwards) June 24, 2018
Foster told journalists about her historic GAA visit: “Of course this isn’t my first time at the Clones, I grew up not so very far away from here. But it is my first time at St Tiernach’s Park and I want to say a big thank you to the Ulster Council of the GAA for the very warm welcome I’ve received.”
“I do realize that there are some people who may be uncomfortable with me being here today on a Sunday but let me say this: I am the leader of a political party that wants to have a shared society in Northern Ireland. To do that we have to take steps forward.”
In another move to facilitate understanding and goodwill, Foster stood up for the Irish national anthem as part of a visit that has been described as “a symbolic moment in cross-community engagement,” as TD for Cavan-Monaghan Heather Humphreys expressed.
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According to The Belfast Telegraph, while Fermanagh was unfortunate to not win their first provincial title, Foster was a good sport and clapped as Donegal captain Michael Murphy lifted the Anglo-Celt Cup after his team’s victory.
Sinn Fein leader in the north, Michelle O’Neill, welcomed the move by Foster to reach out to the nationalist community.
“I along with other Sinn Fein leaders met recently with Prince Charles in order to demonstrate our desire to reach out and respect those across our community of a unionist and British identity,” O’Neill stated.
“We recognize the important significance of Arlene Foster as DUP leader attending today’s Ulster final and acknowledge and very much welcome her decision to do so. She has encouraged others to step forward as well to understand, appreciate and respect another culture perhaps that isn’t theirs in the context of building an inclusive society.”
As the government of Northern Ireland is currently non-existent because of the two sides’ unwillingness to cooperate under the context of a shared-power arrangement, moves like these indicate efforts at reconciliation.