Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: There's no personal dislike and they've been snapped together before. What's the fuss about?

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
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill pose for a photograph together at a charity event. Big deal. What is the issue?

Our two best-known female public faces attended the Firmus Energy Local Women Magazine Awards. They were asked to stand together for a picture. If one of them had said 'No thanks, I'd rather not', now that would have been a story. It would have looked petty, and there's nothing the media loves more than two women fighting.

We all attend events and have photos taken with people who aren't our bosom buddies. Besides, there is no personal animosity between the DUP leader and Sinn Fein vice-president. Their disagreement is political.

They have been in government together before and, I believe, they will be back there again - whether or not it delivers anything for ordinary people is another matter entirely.

Michelle was Health Minister and Agriculture Minister when Arlene was First Minister, Finance Minister, and Trade Minister. So they served on the Executive together for a total of six years.

The photo of the two women politicians was taken by Gemma Garrett. Reacting to the response, she posted on Facebook: "So I took a picture on Saturday night and people are losing their s*** over it.

"Ok ... they were asked to pose in a picture together, both I imagine a little reluctant! But what was the alternative; saying NO? At a Local Woman event? Supporting women from all over Northern Ireland. God forbid people conduct themselves in a decent manner at an awards event."

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TUV leader Jim Allister wasn't impressed with the friendly photograph.

"Cosy. DUP/SF now into group hugs. Hmm," he tweeted.

But the TUV opposes Sinn Fein being in government. The DUP ditched that stance long ago.

This is far from the first time that Arlene and Michelle have been pictured in public together since the collapse of power-sharing.

The both spoke at a Co-Operation Ireland dinner in November 2017 in London, and were very positive towards each other.

A month earlier it had been a little more hit-and-miss at the Ulster Fry breakfast event at the Tory party conference. "The North isn't British," said Michelle when asked about an Irish Language Act.

Arlene said she didn't want to turn the occasion into a row "but Northern Ireland is British" and Michelle's comment was a "ludicrous thing to say".

But two months before that, they had got on swimmingly at a meeting in Castlewellan organised by the Methodist Church.

Sky News Ireland correspondent David Blevins, who hosted the event, noted it was far from a "Punch and Judy show". Michelle said "of course" she could do business with Arlene.

Asked what she secretly admired about Sinn Fein, the DUP leader said it was the party's "tenacity", although two years on she might not be quite as generous.

Elections, the RHI report, and Brexit mean there's no hope of a deal to restore power-sharing any time soon. But the lure of ministerial office will bring both parties there eventually - in what will be another one for the album.

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