Northern Ireland news

Arlene Foster 'regretfully' declines invitation to Pope's speech in Dublin Castle

 Arlene Foster will be away with her family and unable to accept her invitation to the Pope's address in Dublin Castle next Saturday, the DUP says
Michael McHugh, Press Association

Arlene Foster has declined an invitation to an address by Pope Francis in Dublin later this month.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader and former Stormont first minister said she would be away with her family at the time.

The Dublin government had asked her to attend a speech by the pontiff in Dublin Castle on Saturday August 25.

A DUP statement said: "Mrs Foster appreciates the invitation but regretfully will be away with her family at that time.

"She particularly acknowledges the significance of this event for many Roman Catholics in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland."

The DUP was founded by fundamentalist firebrand preacher the Reverend Ian Paisley, who declared Pope John Paul II the anti-Christ when he addressed the European Parliament in 1988.

Mrs Foster has previously met the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin.

The head of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Moderator Dr Charles McMullen, earlier said he was "very pleased" to accept an invitation to attend papal visit events at Dublin Castle and Croke Park.

Stormont powersharing between the DUP and Sinn Fein is suspended in a row over identity issues like the Irish language, during which Mrs Foster has faced criticism from republicans.

She has also met Irish speakers and watched Gaelic games as conciliatory gestures.

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