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Invite to Papal reception was for Arlene Foster only but she did not veto other DUP attendees

DUP leader Arlene Foster speaks to the media as she unveils a banner with party colleagues including Nigel Dodds (left) and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (second right) outside Parliament Buildings at Stormont in Belfast. The Government has acknowledged the deep frustration of the public in Northern Ireland as the region reached an unwanted milestone for non-governance. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday August 28, 2018. On Tuesday the region notched up 589 days since the powersharing executive collapsed - passing Belgium for the world's longest peacetime period without a properly functioning government. See PA story ULSTER Politics. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.

Arlene Foster has denied vetoing DUP representation at Saturday's civic reception for Pope Francis but also insisted it was her decision not to send anybody to the Dublin Castle event.

When quizzed yesterday for the first time over her party's decision not to attend a Papal event, the former first minister said the invite from the taoiseach's office was addressed to her personally.

Mrs Foster's Sinn Féin, Alliance and Ulster Unionist counterparts all sent representatives to deputise on their behalf because they were unable to travel.

The DUP leader said those decisions were a "matter for other parties".

"I received an invitation personally to attend I think it was the function to be held by the Republic of Ireland's government," she said.

"I was out of the jurisdiction on a long pre-planned holiday with my family because I know how busy September and October are going to be."

Mrs Foster said she found it "very ironic" that while the Pope was marking a celebration of the family, critics couldn't understand that she was with her family at the weekend.

The DUP leader said she had acknowledged the significance of the pontiff's visit in her statement announcing the decision not to attend.

"I know it's a hugely significant event, particularly for Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland and that is something I hope that they enjoyed when the Pope was here," she said

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds was then asked why he had not attended instead but Mrs Foster answered the question as the North Belfast MP remained silent.

"I was the one who received the invitation and it was my decision that I was away out of the country at that time," she said.

Asked if she had essentially vetoed his attendance, she replied: "That's not the way the DUP operates."

Naomi Long told The Irish News that the invitation issued by the taoiseach's office was specifically for her plus a guest but she asked if someone from Alliance could go in her place as she was out of the country.

"When I explained the circumstances to the taoiseach's office there was no issue with sending somebody else," she said.

"Obviously the reason I got the invite was because I'd be going in a representational capacity rather than as a private citizen, so the process of sending somebody in my place was straightforward."

Mrs Long said it was "unfortunate" that the DUP had chosen not to send anybody.

"All of these types of invites are opportunities for people to show they are open to reconciliation and acknowledging other cultures," she said.

"The fact that nobody from the largest party in Northern Ireland attended this event is a great shame and a missed opportunity."

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