Arlene Foster: 'Irish language should not be stumbling block to setting up Executive'
DUP leader Arlene Foster has said thank you in Irish as she concluded a visit to meet staff and language students at a school in Newry.
The former First Minister met staff and pupils at Our Lady's Grammar, a Catholic all-girls school.
At the end of the visit, Mrs Foster shook hands with staff and said: "Go raibh maith agat."
She said after the meeting: "I was really uplifted this morning by the girls and what they were able to tell me and what they were able to show me."
"It was wonderful, I just had a great morning. It has set me up for the rest of the day."
"One of the very strong things that came across was the passion that the girls had for the language."
Mrs Foster added: "It is really good to strip away all the politics out of this issue and just to listen in a very clear way as to how Irish and the language has helped in the study of other languages and to give them a head start in relation to job opportunities as well."
The DUP leader also posted a photograph on Twitter of a painting she said she received from the school, which she described as a "beautiful gift".
In an article for The Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Foster said she had found others in agreement with her that Irish should not be politicised.
"The Irish language should not, and cannot, be used by anyone as a political weapon.
"It is grossly unfair that the Irish language has been used as a political football by some politicians in Northern Ireland.
"The Irish language should not be a stumbling block to setting up an executive in Northern Ireland.
"To be clear, the DUP is prepared for government now, we have no red lines.
"Education, health, the economy and our children's futures are too important to be held to ransom."
The visit follows an announcement by Mrs Foster before Easter, when she outlined her intention to meet with Irish speakers "over the next short period of time" to "respect and better understand" the language and culture.
Mrs Foster is set to continue her meetings with Irish language speakers today, when she is due to hold discussions with Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League).
It is understood that the meeting with the group, who are based on the Falls Road in west Belfast, will take place at Stormont.
Mrs Foster, who said during the assembly election campaign that she would not agree to an Irish language act - a key demand of Sinn Féin - is also expected to meet another group, Pobal, before the end of the week.
The DUP did not respond to a request from The Irish News for details of its planned meetings with Irish language speakers over coming days.