Leading article

DUP mishandling of Pope Francis invitation reflects badly on Arlene Foster

Earlier this month the Irish government extended an invitation to the leaders of all the main political parties in Northern Ireland to attend a reception for Pope Francis in Dublin Castle during his visit last weekend.

This was not a religious service, which may have caused some difficulties for non-Catholics, but a civic event where politicians, community representatives and those from different denominations had to opportunity to hear from a leading world figure.

Within a short time of the invitations being sent, most of the party leaders made their intentions known.

Alliance leader Naomi Long was due to be out of the country but asked the taoiseach's office if she could send someone else, which was agreed and Kellie Armstrong represented the party.

Similarly, UUP leader Robin Swann was unable to attend but confirmed that MLA Robbie Butler would take his place.

Sinn Féin leader Michelle O'Neill had initially hoped to go but due to a broken leg sent Conor Murphy in her stead.

However, it took much longer for the DUP leader to clarify her position, eventually saying she would be on a pre-planned family holiday. Significantly, she did not nominate a colleague to represent the party in her place.

When questioned about this on Tuesday, Mrs Foster was in defensive mode suggesting critics 'couldn't understand that she was with her family at the weekend.'

The fact that she had a pre-planned holiday was not the issue. No one would expect her to abandon those arrangements.

The issue is that no one from the DUP took up this invitation, which would have demonstrated the party's commitment to outreach and sent a message to the traditional Catholic voters it is apparently trying to attract.

In all respects, the DUP's presence would have been seen in welcome and positive terms.

Clearly, if Mrs Foster had wanted the party to be represented, it would have happened.

The DUP has not handled this matter particularly well and ultimately that will reflect badly on the leader's judgment.

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