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Opinion: Arlene Foster's symbolic appearance on RTE's Late Late Show

Arlene Foster appeared on RTÉ's Late Late Show. Picture from RTÉ
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We are at a very early stage in the new Stormont arrangements, and some mixed signals have been sent out along the way, but there was plainly a symbolic and political importance to the appearance of first minister Arlene Foster on RTE's Late Late Show.

While the DUP leader has not always looked comfortable during previous southern engagements, there was a distinct sense on Friday night that, after her return as first minister, she understands the need to reach out on an all Ireland basis.

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It was quite striking that, when host Ryan Tubridy repeatedly referred to viewers in the Republic, it was Mrs Foster who pointed out that the show also has a strong following across the border and she had watched it while growing up Co Fermanagh.

Indeed, she responded with particular warmth to being on the same programme as Johnny Logan 40 years after his celebrated win for Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Mrs Foster set out her personal background in detail, and there could only be enormous sympathy for her ordeals at the hands of the IRA when her police officer father narrowly survived an assassination attempt at their home and a bomb exploded underneath her school bus.

People from all traditions who endured similar trauma will identify with her suffering and appreciate the calmness and honesty in which she set out her dreadful experiences at such an early age.

The Dublin audience offered a much cooler response to her views on the Brexit upheaval, in which it is clear that her party played a central and strongly negative role.

There were understated hints that the DUP is starting to come to terms with the reality that its backing for Brexit was an error of historic proportions for unionism which has propelled the border issue to the top of not just the Irish but also the European political agenda.

With Scotland pushing more firmly than ever for independence, and the English nationalists who control the Westminster administration expressing open indifference towards any form of union which does not suit their own narrow ambitions, we are in a rapidly changing environment.

The restoration of the Stormont executive was a positive development but the tone of Mrs Foster's RTE interview was perhaps an equally telling indication of the evolving political times.

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