Belfast Telegraph

Both praise and ridicule after Foster and O'Neill pose for picture together

Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill with Stephen Garrett Snr and Stephen Garrett Jnr at the Firmus Energy Local Women Magazine Awards
Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill with Stephen Garrett Snr and Stephen Garrett Jnr at the Firmus Energy Local Women Magazine Awards
Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill with Stephen Garrett Snr and Stephen Garrett Jnr at the Firmus Energy Local Women Magazine Awards
'Cosy': Jim Allister

By Staff Reporter

The DUP has defended Arlene Foster posing for a photograph with Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill despite the fact power-sharing at Stormont is suspended.

TUV leader Jim Allister had described the picture as "cosy" and noted that the parties were not into "group hugs".

The DUP leader and the Sinn Fein vice-president were pictured together by former Miss Great Britain Gemma Garrett.

Also in the photograph were Ms Garrett's brother Stephen, a Cliftonville player, and her father Stephen Snr.

The two politicians were guests at the Firmus Energy Local Women Magazine Awards in Belfast's Europa Hotel on Saturday night.

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said: "We don't need hugs, we need delivery.

"If Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill can attend functions together, they can join forces and address the issues currently impacting on the people of Northern Ireland.

"For a start, they can get down to work together on the transformation of healthcare, reforms to education and tackling dilapidated infrastructure on behalf of the whole community."

Reacting to the photograph of Mrs Foster and Ms O'Neill circulating on social media, TUV leader Jim Allister tweeted: "Cosy. DUP/SF now into group hugs. Hmm."

But DUP MP Gregory Campbell defended his party leader. "People regularly ask to have their photo taken with Arlene, and Saturday's event was no different," he said.

"Walking away because someone else was also invited to be in the picture would achieve nothing." In a side swipe at the TUV leader, Mr Campbell said: "However, for some of the critics, walking away is the only thing they have ever achieved."

The East Londonderry MP added: "I also attended, along with Arlene, the 10th anniversary of the Local Women awards on Saturday. Over £1,700 was raised for local cancer charities at this very worthwhile event."

There has been no Executive or Assembly since January 2017 when Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister, the late Martin McGuinness, resigned.

The Stormont institutions collapsed amidst the cash-for-ash scandal. Last week Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley suggested she was open to appointing an independent person to chair talks designed to restore power-sharing.

The Ulster Unionists and the SDLP declined to comment on the photograph of Mrs Foster and Ms O'Neill.

Social media was divided over the picture. On Twitter, the chair of Alliance Youth and Lagan River council candidate Eoin Tennyson said: "Glad Arlene and Michelle can overcome their differences for the sake of a fancy awards dinner.

"Shame they can't do the same for victims of historical abuse, people on hospital waiting lists and kids in schools under financial pressure."

Another tweeter said: "It's great to see that Michelle and Arlene can finally stand beside each other. It's a shame they can't do it in a parliamentary building, you know, the thing that they're getting paid to do?"

But a Facebook poster said: "This is a brilliant photo it gives the people a bit of hope , better seeing them smiling and talking to each other than at each other's throats."

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