Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster must be applauded for going to GAA final

Editor's Viewpoint

Earlier in June, DUP leader Mrs Arlene Foster visited the Islamic Centre in Belfast to mark Eid, which is the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Yesterday, she made another important outreach when she attended the Ulster GAA football final in Clones, Co Monaghan, between her home county Fermanagh and Donegal.

Fermanagh lost the match, but Mrs Foster won approval from the local crowd and further afield by becoming the first DUP leader to attend such an event.

On Thursday of this week she will attend an LGBT function at Stormont, the PinkNews summer reception, along with other local party leaders.

The derisive cry of obvious "gesture politics" will surely have been silenced by the sight of the DUP leader standing respectfully in Monaghan during the playing of Ireland's national anthem.

In fairness, she was warmly applauded by the game's spectators for doing so.

If this is so-called "gesture politics", then it must be welcomed and is much more than we have been accustomed to in the past.

It is also important to note that some senior Sinn Fein politicians have been playing their part too by moving out of their comfort zones. Only recently, Gerry Kelly and Caral Ni Chuilin met the Prince of Wales during his visit to Northern Ireland. The symbolism of such meetings is plain for all to see.

On current polling evidence, there are arguably no votes for either party in this kind of outreach.

However, given the icy Siberian temperatures to which relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein had plummeted before the implosion of the Northern Ireland Executive, we should perhaps be thankful for any improvement.

Certainly it is worth re-visiting Arlene Foster's important recent speech in London about unionism.

She said among other things: "Northern Ireland is transformed and, while we should never be complacent, that prevailing feeling of constantly being under siege is no longer the case.

"Unionism is at its best when it is confident, outward-looking and welcoming. We must move forward with confidence."

Her visit to the GAA game at Clones yesterday was proof that the London speech was not just a box-ticking exercise in front of an academic audience, but rather realpolitik in action.

What must happen now? As that pre-eminent DUP observer Professor John Tonge of Liverpool University notes in today's Belfast Telegraph, what is needed is a serious range of conciliatory proposals to restore devolved government which will go hand in hand with other confidence-building measures.

No-one may be betting yet on a swift return to power-sharing, if only because the outworking of Brexit still needs to be negotiated, and many complexities still lie ahead on this tortuous political and economic journey.

However, if the current mood music is the best that is on offer, the message sent by the effective leader of unionism standing yesterday for The Soldier's Song at a GAA ground in Monaghan - and on a Sunday too - cannot be gainsaid.

After so many disappointments and setbacks in the history of Northern Ireland, people can be forgiven for being wary. On the other hand, when senior politicians make an effort in reaching out to others, they deserve credit.

Belfast Telegraph

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