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Michelle O'Neill must learn to reach out to unionists

Editor's viewpoint

Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill know by now that their every utterance will be minutely examined and commented upon. As the leader of the DUP and northern leader of Sinn Fein respectively they hold pivotal positions in politics in Northern Ireland and are the key to the restoration of devolution.

Mrs Foster has come in for her fair share of criticism for her ill-advised crocodiles description of her republican opponents and for her dismissal of Sinn Fein's call for the introduction of an Irish language act.

She has realised that her approach did not endear her to the wider Northern Ireland public and has moved to redress the situation. Her offer to meet with Irish language enthusiasts who have no political baggage was well received and she made an important gesture during a visit to a Catholic school when she spoke a few words in Irish.

No one believes that is sufficient to break the impasse over the introduction of legislation on Irish but it shows a willingness to learn more about the language and those who have an obvious passion for it.

By contrast Michelle O'Neill, who has constantly complained about the lack of respect shown by the DUP towards her party, seems incapable of making a similar nuanced gesture.

One of her first engagements after taking over her present post was to address a gathering remembering two IRA men killed by the SAS in Clonoe and now will be the principal speaker at a parade in memory of eight IRA men killed by the SAS at Loughgall.

While it is accepted that republicans will always remember their dead, to describe those killed at Loughgall as martyrs - as posters for the event say - is to rub salt into the wounds of those in the unionist community who suffered at the hands of this particular IRA gang.

No one doubts Ms O'Neill's republican credentials but she must realise that alienating one section of the community is not the way to build a more inclusive society here. Her involvement in the Loughgall parade is insensitive at a time when passions are in danger of being inflamed by another toxic election campaign.

Martin McGuinness was rightly applauded for his efforts to reach out to the unionist community by both word and deed and it would be hoped that Ms O'Neill could adopt a similar approach in the wider community interest. Her speech on Sunday would be a good starting point.

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