Arlene Foster in Dublin last year. RollingNews.ie photo.
By Irish Echo Staff
The pope will be in the island of Ireland. DUP leader Arlene Foster was invited to attend the papal visit to Dublin, specifically a reception in Dublin Castle, but she declined citing vacation plans.
Foster responded to the Irish government invitation by saying that “regretfully” she couldn’t make the event because of her holiday plans.
“Mrs. Foster has received an invitation from the Republic of Ireland’s government to an address by Pope Francis in Dublin Castle on Saturday 25 August,” a DUP spokesperson said.
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“Mrs. Foster appreciates the invitation but regretfully will be away with her family at that time. She particularly acknowledges the significance of this event for many Roman Catholics in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.”
The DUP did not offer a substitute attendee.
Critics and commentators see in Foster’s, and her party’s, absence a significant lost opportunity.
Foster did attend the Ulster GAA football final a few weeks ago and was warmly welcomed and widely praised.
The papal visit, however, is not a match for that match.
Columnist Brian Feeney wrote in the Irish News: “You can understand what the late Martin McGuinness meant about his problems with Arlene Foster.
“Her lack of reciprocity got him into trouble. There he was meeting the Queen in Windsor and Belfast. Maybe more importantly, there was the Queen meeting him in Belfast and Windsor. There was the queen muttering a cúpla focal in Dublin.”
Arlene Foster is a member of the Church of Ireland, the head of which is Queen Elizabeth.
Continued Feeney in part: “It’s not as if Arlene is a Presbyterian who, outside this benighted place, are notoriously hostile to any expressions of monarchy, priesthood, pomp and ceremony, bells and smells.
“You might be able to see her difficulty if that were the case. There might even be some religious reason. On the contrary, the Presbyterian moderator will attend the papal reception in Dublin Castle. So will religious leaders and political representatives from all over Ireland except for the largest party for the time being in The North.
“The fact that it took Foster so long to remember that she was going on a family holiday next week raises the suspicion that she thought about going to Dublin to join other political and religious leaders at, mark you, a non-religious reception, and then thought worse of it. The fact that no one from the DUP will be there speaks volumes.
“One consequence is certain. Foster’s failure of nerve guarantees that those Catholic unicorns that some unionists fondly imagine will never vote for Irish unity will remain imaginary. (Peter) Robinson’s pleas in 2011 that Unionists will have to reach out to northern Catholics if they want to preserve the Union because soon there will no longer be enough Protestants to save it have fallen on deaf ears.
“It seems bizarre that Foster can’t herself understand the contradiction that the very fact that she refuses to perform symbolic actions as Martin McGuinness did, is in itself a symbolic action. She remains unable to answer why the Queen can perform symbolic actions which Foster won’t even send a DUP representative to perform, and yet still remains the Queen, and more highly regarded because of those symbolic gestures.”
In the U.S., Fr. Sean McManus of the Irish National Caucus – a Fermanagh native as is Foster – also voiced criticism of the DUP leader’s absence from the Dublin gathering.
Said McManus in a statement: “’No Pope here’ is the extreme Orange (Unionist/Loyalist/Protestant) battle cry of anti-Catholic bigots in Northern Ireland. It is being heard once again because of Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland (but not to the Six Counties of Northern Ireland). “Quite simply Foster is scared to show respect to the Pope because it would infuriate a significant section of her support base. However, it is important to understand this: Anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland is not about theological disagreement with Catholicism, but rather a socio-political system and mindset determined to keep Catholics down.
“Just as anti-Semitism is not really a theological disagreement, but rather an organized system of hostility towards people of the Jewish faith or heritage. The same with anti-Islamism etc.
“Extreme anti-Catholic bigotry in Northern Ireland does not harm the Pope, and never has. That was never really its purpose. Its purpose was always to harm, hurt and disrespect the local Catholics in Northern Ireland – to keep uppity Catholics in their place, to show them who the boss is, and to keep the Six Counties loyal to the Queen!”