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A warm welcome for DUP chief suggests she made the right call

By Donna Deeney

Any doubts that DUP leader Arlene Foster had about attending the funeral of her former partner in government were dispelled by the spontaneous applause she received as she entered St Columba's Church yesterday.

Mrs Foster, accompanied by her predecessor Peter Robinson and DUP colleague Simon Hamilton, were greeted at the gates of the church which overlooks the Bogside - a staunchly republican stronghold in Londonderry.

The DUP delegation had deliberated for some time about whether an attendance at Mr McGuinness's funeral was appropriate, given his past as an IRA commander and the violence inflicted by the terror group.

Mrs Foster's own father had been a target of the IRA and she has often recalled the personal pain the terror group caused to her.

She herself was caught up in an attack by the Provisionals when a bomb exploded on her school bus.

Arriving well ahead of the funeral cortege, Mrs Foster walked swiftly into the church to take up her seat between Mr Robinson and Mr Hamilton.

Nothing could have prepared any of them for the sustained applause and cheer as she walked up the aisle of the church.

During Mass, Sinn Fein's Northern leader, Michelle O'Neill, stretched out her hand to Mrs Foster, who duly accepted, and the two women shook hands warmly. So too did Gerry Adams and former DUP leader Peter Robinson.

The welcome that met Mrs Foster inside the church was repeated outside in the grounds of St Columba's as she made her way to the exit gates once the funeral cortège had begun its journey to the City Cemetery.

A walk that should have taken no more than a few seconds lasted several minutes as dozens of people stopped Mrs Foster and Mr Robinson in their tracks to offer words of thanks for taking the time to show final respects to Mr McGuinness.

Words of encouragement, hugs and even requests for the pair to pose for 'selfies' were clearly appreciated.

Mrs Foster eventually made it to the car waiting to take her back to the steps of Stormont Castle.

"This is not a day for interviews", she told the Belfast Telegraph.

Perhaps not - but it was certainly a day for breaking new ground.

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