ARLENE FOSTER has today become the first unionist politician to attend the Ulster GAA senior football final.
The MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, who grew up in the Erne County, watched as Fermanagh lost out to Donegal in the Ulster football showpiece, losing 2-18 to 0-12.
However Foster admitted some people ‘may be uncomfortable’ with her attending a GAA game, which took place on a Sunday.
The DUP leader received a round of applause as she entered St Tiernach’s Park in Clones, Co. Monaghan.
Ulster GAA President Michael Hasson welcomes @DUPleader Arlene Foster to St Tiernach's Park ahead of the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between @officialdonegal and @FermanaghGAA pic.twitter.com/ELprCgtQum
— Ulster GAA (@UlsterGAA) 24 June 2018
She was accompanied by Christopher Stalford, DUP MLA for South Belfast, and Irish Enterprise Minister Heather Humphreys, Fine Gael TD for Cavan-Monaghan.
Foster, who served as First Minister before the collapse of the devolved government at Stormont, even stood for Amhrán na bhFiann, the Irish national anthem, before the game.
DUP leader Arlene Foster stood for the Irish national anthem as Fermanagh took on Donegal at the GAA Ulster final in Clones. #UlsterGAA @FermanaghGAA @officialdonegal https://t.co/TwzX0n6JEe pic.twitter.com/wIZCtjL9E2
— BBC News NI (@BBCNewsNI) 24 June 2018
As she took her seat in front of Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, the two could be seen laughing together, even posing for a selfie later on.
Speaking before the throw-in, Foster thanked the Ulster Council for the warm welcome she had received, adding that her attendance was an important step in achieving a shared society.
Respect and tolerance
“I do realise that there are some people who may be uncomfortable with me being here on a Sunday,” said Foster, “but let me say this – I am the leader of a political party that wants to have a shared society in Northern Ireland.
“To do that we have to take steps forward, to do that we also have to build a respect and a tolerance and that’s what I want to do.
“I hope that others will take the chance to step forward as well, to understand and appreciate and tolerate another culture perhaps that isn’t theirs.”
Image of the day?
— Darran Marshall (@DarranMarshall) 24 June 2018
Deputy Sinn Féin leader O’Neill praised Foster’s attendance at the event.
“Mary Lou McDonald and I met recently with Prince Charles in order to demonstrate our desire to reach out and respect those across our community of a unionist and British identity,” She said.
“We recognise the important significance of Arlene Foster as DUP leader attending today’s Ulster final and acknowledge and very much welcome her decision to do so.
“She has encouraged others to step forward as well to understand, appreciate and respect another culture perhaps that isn’t theirs in the context of building an inclusive society.
Great welcome from @UlsterGAA in Clones today. GAA is much more than a sporting organisation and I very much welcome the attendance of Arlene Foster who I have no doubt will be impressed with the GAA family. We all have our part to play in building an inclusive society for all pic.twitter.com/1KmwFzUSOa
— michelle oneill (@moneillsf) 24 June 2018
“There is an onus on all in political leadership to build on these recent initiatives and do more together if we want to be successful in bringing about a society underpinned by inclusion.”
Peter Robinson, Foster’s predecessor as DUP leader and First Minister, previously attended a GAA game.
Accompanied by then Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Robinson attended the Dr McKenna Cup final between Derry and Tyrone in Armagh in 2012.
On social media, some argued that Foster's attendance was a hollow gesture, however others countered that the North can't move on until such gestures are made.
Others took issue with a unionist politican attending a sporting event on a Sunday, however the overriding response was positive.
I was genuinely impressed with Arlene Foster going to the #ulsterfinal it’s about time that NI politicians do normal things like supporting local teams without it being a big issue ! #CreditWhereItsDue #WellDoneArlene
— Danny Donnelly (@DannyDonnelly1) 24 June 2018
Impressed with Arlene Foster extending the hand of friendship and showing respect for the Irish national anthem at the #UlsterFinal.
— Richard Garland (@richardtgarland) 24 June 2018
— Sorcha Eastwood (@SorchaEastwood) 24 June 2018
Good to see Arlene Foster at today’s #UlsterFinal2018 and standing respectfully for Amhrán na bhFiann
— Chris Hazzard (@ChrisHazzardSF) 24 June 2018
Fair play to Arlene Foster. She supports her county at a GAA provincial final and respectfully stands for the Irish national anthem. Classy lady.
— Pat Mannix (@patmannix) 24 June 2018
Arlene Foster has attended the Ulster final of the GAA, and stood for the Irish anthem.. a powerful gesture for progress. See the people who are raging? they’re the people who want to hold NI back.
Well done Arlene and C Stalford, brave leadership. 👏🏻
— #GAWA 🍺🇬🇧 (@Uunionist) 24 June 2018