Northern Ireland news

DUP not expected to send anyone to Pope Francis reception

Arlene Foster will be away with her family when Pope Francis visits Ireland. Picture by David Cheskin/PA Wire

THE DUP is not expected to send any representative to a civic reception for Pope Francis in Dublin after Arlene Foster said she could not attend.

The party confirmed yesterday that the former first minister had declined an invitation from the taoiseach's office to next Saturday's event in Dublin Castle.

A spokesman for the DUP leader said Mrs Foster would be away with her family during next weekend's papal visit.

The announcement ends weeks of speculation about whether she would continue a series of outreach gestures by accepting the invite.

Mrs Foster recently attended the GAA's Ulster football final in Clones, a Pink News LGBT event in Stormont, and marked the end of Ramadan at an event organised by the Belfast Islamic Centre.

Invites to the Dublin Castle reception, which will include a speech by Pope Francis, were sent to the leaders of the north's main parties a fortnight ago by Leo Varadkar's office.

Within days of receiving the correspondence, four of the five Stormont leaders had made their intentions public.

However, despite regular requests from The Irish News, the DUP refused to say whether Mrs Foster planned to accept.

Sinn Féin deputy president Michelle O'Neill and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood both plan to travel to Dublin, while Alliance leader Naomi Long and her deputy Stephen Farry will both be out of the country. However, the party said it planned to send a representative.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann declined the invitation because he plans to attend the Royal Black Preceptory's 'Last Saturday' celebrations in Larne, but Lagan Valley MLA Robbie Butler will represent the party at Dublin Castle.

The DUP statement said: "Mrs Foster appreciates the invitation but regretfully will be away with her family at that time.

"She particularly acknowledges the significance of this event for many Roman Catholics in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland."

The party is not expected to send any representative in Mrs Foster's place.

The party leader has previously met the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin.

Presbyterian Moderator Dr Charles McMullen said this week he was "very pleased" to accept an invitation to attend papal events at Dublin Castle and Croke Park.

Church of Ireland and Methodist leaders are also attending.

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