Northern Ireland news

DUP silent on Arlene Foster's attendance at papal events

The DUP has yet to say if Arlene Foster will continue recent outreach gestures by attending a papal event. Picture by Declan Roughan

THE DUP has declined to say whether Arlene Foster will attend a Mass or other events involving Pope Francis during his visit to Ireland later this month.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's office has sent invites to the leaders of the north's five main parties asking if they would like to attend events associated with the papal visit, including Mass in Dublin's Phoenix Park or the Angelus in Knock, Co Mayo.

The party leaders have also been invited to a civic reception in Dublin Castle, where the pontiff will give a speech to an audience that will include Irish government representatives and members of civic society from both sides of the border.

Pope Francis will arrive in Dublin for his first visit to Ireland - and the first by any pontiff since 1979 - on Saturday August 25.

His first engagement on the morning of his arrival will be a meeting with President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin.

In a busy itinerary that includes the lunchtime reception at Dublin Castle, he will also visit St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral and the Capuchin Fathers-run Day Centre for Homeless Families, both in Dublin.

Saturday's engagements will conclude with the Festival of Families at Croke Park, where Pope Francis will address the audience.

On the Sunday, the pontiff will visit the shrine at Knock, where he will say the Angelus before returning to Dublin for Mass at 3 o'clock in Phoenix Park before hundreds of thousands of people.

The DUP press office was last night unable to confirm if Mrs Foster had received an invitation and therefore it is not yet known whether she plans to attend any of the events associated with the pope's visit.

In recent months the former first minister has made a number of outreach gestures, including attending the Ulster GAA football final in Clones and an LGBT event organised by Pink News at Stormont.

The Ulster Unionist Party confirmed that its leader Robin Swann had been invited to attend the pope’s address at Dublin Castle but is unable to attend as he will be participating in the annual 'Black Saturday' Royal Black Institution parade in Larne, which takes place on the same date.

Lagan Valley MLA Robbie Butler will instead represent the party at the Dublin Castle event.

The pope is not expected to travel north of the border during his visit, despite calls from some political and religious leaders.

Read more: Pope scarecrow wins first prize at Co Laois festival

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