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Both our mums have been in hospital, reveal NI leaders as they present a united front

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First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill. Credit: Sky News

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill. Credit: Sky News

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill. Credit: Sky News

The mothers of both women at the head of the Stormont Executive have been in hospital during the pandemic, the Deputy First Minister has revealed.

Michelle O’Neill also said the Covid-19 outbreak had brought the DUP and Sinn Fein closer together.

Asked what they have personally found most challenging throughout the crisis, Mrs O’Neill said that both her own and Arlene Foster’s mums had been ill.

“I think sometimes people think politicians are a people apart, that somehow we live a different reality, but our reality is the same as everybody else’s,” Mrs O’Neill told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme.

In March both lamented the fact there would be no hugs with their mums on Mother’s Day.

Mrs O’Neill had said the occasion would be hard for her. She said that instead of a family meal, she would be talking to her mum using FaceTime.

“When I think of my own mother Kathleen, it is with nothing but pride. She taught me many things that I use every day of my life,” she said.

And Mrs Foster said “that in the midst of all the crisis” her 86-year-old mum Georgina Kelly “has one overriding concern — will the hairdresser still do my hair?”.

“She’s always a great leveller,” she said ahead of Mother’s Day.

“No matter what in the world may be going on, mum will still expect her calls to be answered after two rings and will want to tell you in detail the latest news from Lisnaskea.”

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DUP leader Arlene Foster is hugged by her mother Georgina Kelly after becoming First Minister at Parliament Buildings, Stormont

DUP leader Arlene Foster is hugged by her mother Georgina Kelly after becoming First Minister at Parliament Buildings, Stormont

DUP leader Arlene Foster is hugged by her mother Georgina Kelly after becoming First Minister at Parliament Buildings, Stormont

On Sunday she joked that she missed her own hairdresser and singing in church.

She said: “On a personal level there are two things, one is my hairdresser. When people say to us: ‘When are we going to have the hairdresser? You realise we need our hairdressers’.

“I need my hairdresser as much as anybody, it’s certainly in need of attention.

“I miss the ordinary things that you take for granted and I think after this is over, I hope people don’t take those sorts of things for granted, that they actually do value their freedom and all the things we haven’t been able to do.”

She also said the parties had come together to deal with the health crisis and the fallout.

It comes after the parties were criticised for being at loggerheads over some aspects of the response to the pandemic.

Sinn Fein criticised Health Minister Robin Swann for his response to coronavirus, saying he had too closely followed the UK Government’s plan.

There was also public disagreement between the parties around the closure of schools, and how Sinn Fein had mishandled an order for a shipment of personal protective equipment.

Mrs Foster admitted it was a challenge to deal with a global pandemic just weeks after Stormont returned from a three-year absence.

The DUP leader said that the Executive had shown they could “work together in difficult times”.

“I think it shows that we can come together and we have worked together,” she said.

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Michelle O’Neill with her mum Kathleen

Michelle O’Neill with her mum Kathleen

Michelle O’Neill with her mum Kathleen

The number of people who have died after testing positive for coronavirus in Northern Ireland rose on Sunday to 506 after one more death was reported by the Department of Health. It also reported a further 25 cases of confirmed Covid-19, bringing the total number of positive cases to 4,570.

The number of people tested for the virus over the last 24 hours was 1,370.

Mrs O’Neill said at times there was “different emphasis” between the parties, but rejected the idea there was a “difference of approach”.

“We all shared the same objective of trying to save lives,” the Sinn Fein vice-president said.

Mrs Foster said the Executive was aware of the risk the virus posed to care homes from other countries’ experiences.

She said ministers had made “many interventions” to help care homes during the pandemic.

“There will be plenty of time to look back to see what else could have been done, or what could have been done differently,” the First Minister said.

“The whole Executive acknowledges that care homes are a critical battlefield for us now and we still very much want to deal with those issues.”

Talking about the Executive’s five-stage recovery plan, Mrs O’Neill said that the Executive could have looked to Dublin or London, but it was about “our own response to Covid-19”.

“We do live on an island, we have a geographical advantage, it’s important that we use that to our people’s best advantage,” she said.

“It also makes good sense that we work with colleagues in Dublin to make sure that we have that north-south approach, because the disease spread is moving in the exact same trajectory right across this island.” Mrs Foster said that Northern Ireland “benefited” from being part of the UK. “In terms of economic interventions, our own NHS, plus the fact our Health Minister has a very close relationship with the other Health Ministers across the UK,” she said.

“Devolution is about doing what’s right locally for your own people and what we have to do is to listen to the medical and scientific evidence and then make our decisions based on that.”

Mrs Foster said that while she and Mrs O’Neill came from “completely different political backgrounds”, there were things they shared in common.

“It’s the common ground that we’ve been trying to concentrate on during this crisis and I think throughout the devolved experience that’s what’s driving us,” the First Minister said.

Mrs O’Neill said that while she would never cease to be a republican, she was part of a power-sharing Executive and wanted to make that work.

“I think the last couple of months has brought us all closer together,” she said.

On Brexit, Mrs Foster said that her party knew that the nature of the protocol between the European Union and UK Government meant there would always be checks between Northern Ireland and Britain.

“That’s why we voted against it,” she said.

Mrs O’Neill said that Brexit was only going to further the pain for the economy caused by Covid-19.

Belfast Telegraph