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NI leaders say Covid-19 efforts have helped bring parties closer together

The coronavirus crisis came just weeks after Stormont’s parties committed to the New Decade, New Approach deal.

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First minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA)

First minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA)

First minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA)

The joint leaders of the Northern Ireland Executive have said their efforts to tackle Covid-19 have helped to bring their parties closer together.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said that while they have faced challenges over recent months, their response to coronavirus proves that unionists and nationalists can work together.

The power-sharing Executive was thrown into the middle of a health crisis just weeks after Stormont’s parties committed to the New Decade, New Approach deal.

In a joint-interview, the DUP leader said they knew they would be facing a lot of challenges.

“Then in a very short period of time we were dealing with a global pandemic coming to Northern Ireland,” Mrs Foster told the Sky News Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme.

“So in many ways, we have to deal with that in a very fast time and we have shown we can work together in difficult times and we are working through it.”

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It's the common ground that we've been trying to concentrate on during this crisisArlene Foster

Ms O’Neill said that Covid-19 has brought the political parties “closer together”.

Asked what they have personally found most challenging throughout the crisis, Ms O’Neill revealed that both her mother and the DUP leader’s mother have been in hospital during the crisis.

She added: “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 Foster 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.”

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First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill during one of the Northern Ireland Executive’s daily updates on the response to the Covid-19 crisis (Liam McBurney/PA)

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill during one of the Northern Ireland Executive’s daily updates on the response to the Covid-19 crisis (Liam McBurney/PA)

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First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill during one of the Northern Ireland Executive’s daily updates on the response to the Covid-19 crisis (Liam McBurney/PA)

The number of people who have died after testing positive for coronavirus in Northern Ireland increased to 506 after one more death was reported by the Department of Health on Sunday.

The department also reported a further 25 cases of confirmed Covid-19, bringing the total number of positive cases in Northern Ireland to 4,570.

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

Turning to the crisis within care homes, Mrs Foster said they have made “many interventions” in the private care sector.

“There will be plenty of time to look back to see what else could have been done or what could have been done differently, but we are dealing with this in a very live time now,” she added.

“We both acknowledge that care homes is a critical battlefield for us now and we still very much want to deal with those issues.”

Ms O’Neill said the Executive is making its own decision on how to react to Covid-19, however she added that it “makes sense” to work with their counterparts in the Irish Government.

Mrs Foster said that while she and the Sinn Fein deputy leader come from “completely different political backgrounds” and have different political philosophies, there are things that “we share in common”.

“It’s the common ground that we’ve been trying to concentrate on during this crisis,” she added.

“I think that’s what’s driving us.”

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