Pope's visit

Broken leg forces Michelle O'Neill to pull out of papal events

Michelle O'Neill broke her right leg earlier this month. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

MICHELLE O'Neill has been forced to cancel plans to attend papal events due to her broken leg.

The Sinn Féin deputy leader said "restricted mobility" meant that Newry and Armagh MLA Conor Murphy and other senior party representatives would travel to Dublin in her place.

Ms O'Neill broke her right leg in Belfast earlier this month.

Her decision means neither leader of Stormont's two biggest parties will attend any of the events involving Pope Francis.

The DUP announced on Friday that Arlene Foster would be away with her family this weekend and unable to travel to Dublin.

The party is not sending a representative in her place and has so far remained silent on its reasons for snubbing the pontiff.

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Ms O'Neill had been due to attend Saturday's civic reception for the Pope in Dublin Castle and the World Meeting of Families in Croke Park the same evening.

The Mid Ulster MLA also planned to be among the congregation when Pope Francis says Mass in Phoenix Park on Sunday afternoon.

However, Ms O'Neill voiced regret at not being able to play an active part in what she described as a "significant event for all of the Irish people".

Ahead of Pope Francis's arrival, the Sinn Féin deputy leader also said she would listen with "acute interest"" to what the pontiff has to say on a range of social and religious issues.

"While reflecting on our personal beliefs we must also recognise that as political leaders and as legislators, we have a responsibility beyond our own individual views to deliver equality, rights and respect for all sections of the Irish people."

She said it was important to acknowledge the damage done by the Catholic Church to the lives of many women and children in mother and baby homes, the Magdalene Laundries, and a succession of abuse scandals.

"The visit of Pope Francis is an opportunity to address these issues, to meet with victims and survivors, to fully acknowledge their suffering and the damage done, to end the cover-ups and to commit to full redress, north and south."

Ms O'Neill said Ireland has changed "politically, economically and socially" since Pope John Paul II's visit in 1979.

"We now have a peace process and an increasingly progressive, modern and outward-looking society.

"We must build on this while retaining those positive traditions and values that help to define us and which have withstood the test of time and adversity."

Sinn Féin's northern leader added that Pope Francis's visit could contribute to a new and positive relationship which had been developing between the Irish state and the Catholic Church.

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