Belfast Telegraph

I'd welcome Arlene Foster at GAA final, says Sinn Fein's Gildernew

DUP leader Arlene Foster with members of Fermanagh GAA Phil Flanagan, Rory Gallagher and Tom Boyle
DUP leader Arlene Foster with members of Fermanagh GAA Phil Flanagan, Rory Gallagher and Tom Boyle
Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew

By Gerry McLaughlin

A Sinn Fein MP has said DUP leader Arlene Foster would be made very welcome at next Sunday's Ulster senior championship final between Fermanagh and Donegal.

Former First Minister Mrs Foster has been sending out strong signals in recent weeks that she is thinking of attending the game involving her native county.

Mrs Foster tweeted her congratulations to Fermanagh for their victory over Monaghan in the semi-final earlier this month.

Fermanagh and Donegal will meet for the Ulster Final in Clones, Co Monaghan on June 24. After the last match, the DUP leader said she had not been formally invited. But speaking at the Ulster Ladies Finals, Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew said she would welcome Arlene Foster to the match.

"I think that would be a very welcome development," she said. "I remember saying to Arlene 10 years ago when Fermanagh were in the Ulster final, that it was a great day for the team and the county and that everyone should get behind the county team.

"That year I had the privilege of welcoming Fermanagh unionist councillor Bertie Kerr to the match and he also went to Croke Park to see his native Fermanagh.

"If Arlene was at the match it would send a very positive signal to everybody. We need to see Stormont back up and running and the DUP need to understand that while they may be kingpins in London propping up the Tory government, that there are very pressing local issues to be dealt with." She added: "Of course I would welcome Arlene at the match. Everybody would."

When asked if she thought that Leo Varadkar's historic meeting with the Orange Order may have influenced Mrs Foster, Ms Gildernew said: "I would like to think that it is the ordinary people in Fermanagh who have been an influence on her."

When asked if she would help to explain the rules of Gaelic football to Arlene, she smiled: "I would do my best, of course I would, but I could not see her asking me".

In recent years the GAA has had a mixed relationship with the DUP. In 2008 there was a furore after the then Sports Minister Gregory Campbell referred to Tyrone and Kerry as being in "different countries" and the All Ireland final between the two teams should be considered an international event.

In 2012, then Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson attended his first GAA football match alongside former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

In 2013, during a gala event at Queen's University, he praised the organisation for its contribution to peace building in Northern Ireland.

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