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Why Executive Covid briefings have been moved from Stormont to Dungannon landmark

Dungannon landmark new setting for briefings

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Historic site: Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster address media on the Hill of The O’Neill high above Dungannon

Historic site: Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster address media on the Hill of The O’Neill high above Dungannon

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Historic site: Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster address media on the Hill of The O’Neill high above Dungannon

They have been part of evening news bulletins for almost a year - but regular viewers of the Stormont media briefings have noticed a big change this week.

Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill have taken their press conferences on tour, swapping Stormont Castle for a hill overlooking Dungannon.

The familiar blue Executive-branded backdrop has been replaced by sweeping views from high above the Tyrone town, including the towering spire of St Patrick's Church.

It is understood the Executive decided to move press conferences from Belfast temporarily so ministers can work from home where possible in line with the guidelines, but the situation is being reviewed on a day-to-day basis.

Mrs Foster lives in Co Fermanagh while Mrs O'Neill is from Clonoe, and Dungannon is seen as a suitable meeting point.

Briefings were held at the outdoor events space on the aptly-named Hill of The O'Neill on Tuesday and Thursday this week.

A source said: "They are now travelling to Belfast really infrequently. They are keen to work from home as much as possible, as everyone is being asked to do. They looked around for options for holding a press conference and Dungannon works well.

"It is a large site, which allows for easier social distancing, it is also in the open air. Everyone is keen to stick to the regulations as closely as possible.

"It is being kept under review, but so far the Dungannon site has been popular with the ministers and also the media."

The Hill of The O'Neill was once the seat of power of the O'Neill family, one of the most powerful dynasties in Gaelic Ulster. The site has a varied history, also serving as the residence of the Plantation of Ulster Commissioner Sir Arthur Chichester. More recently, a British Army base was located here.

Over the last decade the site has been redeveloped to become a publicly accessible park, while two towers at the 18th century Knox Hannyngton House have been restored.

Ranfurly House at the base of the Hill, the former Belfast Banking company premises, has also been turned into an exhibition space and visitors' centre.

Before leaving Thursday evening's press conference Mrs O'Neill - a former mayor of Dungannon - took a photograph of the view, which she posted on Twitter.

She wrote: "'The Hill of The O'Neill' is a fantastic space with the most amazing views.

"We are very lucky to have such a historical beauty spot on our doorstep."

Cathal Mallaghan, Sinn Fein chair of Mid Ulster District Council, said he was "delighted" that the site was hosting the press conferences.

Local DUP councillor Clement Cuthbertson said: "It is good to see the focus on Dungannon - the town is at the centre of Northern Ireland, at least in our view.

"It is a popular place with locals. On a clear day the views are outstanding. I am told it is possible to see the six counties of Northern Ireland, if not the nine counties of Ulster."

Belfast Telegraph


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