Northern Ireland news

Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill to meet Micheál Martin together at Stormont this week

First Minister Arlene Foster (left) and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill (right) during a previous media broadcast. Picture by Kelvin Boyes, Press Association
Marie Louise McConville

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill will meet the new Taoiseach at Stormont this week in their first public appearance together since the controversy around the Bobby Storey funeral.

The DUP leader said yesterday that while "damage" had been done to their relationship - after Ms O'Neill was one of hundreds who attended the veteran republican's funeral earlier this month despite social distancing restrictions - they have to work together "because we are in a mandatory coalition".

Speaking on BBC NI's Sunday Politics, Ms Foster said there are now "some real challenges, it will be difficult" however they have to "work through the difficulties, try to rebuild the credibility and I think Sinn Féin have a huge role to play in all of that".

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The First Minister said she was "looking forward" to welcoming new Taoiseach  Micheál Martin to Stormont on Thursday to have "discussions around mutually respecting each other's jurisdictions, making sure that we look forward to the future in a way that doesn't do any damage to the relationships that have come under pressure over this past couple of years.

"It is important that we have a mature relationship," she said.

"A relationship that is to the benefit to both parts of the island of Ireland.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill will meet new Taoiseach Micháel Martin at Stormont this week. Picture: BBC NI Sunday Politics

Ms Foster also said she did not feel threatened by Mr Martin's establishment of a Shared Island Unit within his department.

"This is about a shared island and if there's recognition that there are two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland then I think that is a positive step,"she said.

"I don't fear anything in relation to unionism. We have to advocate for why we believe in the UK and I think through the Covid pandemic, we have seen very many reasons as to why membership of the United Kingdom is very important not just in terms of economic deliverance but also in terms of expertise we have benefited from right through the throughout the Covid pandemic".

Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill has been criticised for attending the funeral of veteran republican Bobby Storey

She added: "I will take my message of unionism anywhere.

"I have no difficulty doing that because it is a very strong message. It's a message that protects Northern Ireland, the fifth largest economy in the world. I have no difficulty in talking about that anywhere".

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Northern Ireland news