DUP leader Arlene Foster turns down invitation to meet the Pope because she is 'busy with the family'

Steven Swinford
DUP leader Arlene Foster - AFP

The leader of the DUP has turned down an invitation to meet the Pope when he visits Ireland, saying that she is away with her family at the time.

The Irish Government invited Mrs Foster to attend a speech by Pope Francis in Dublin Castle on Friday next week.

In a statement the DUP said: "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.”

There are no plans for any other member ot the DUP to attend in Mrs Foster's place.

The DUP was founded by fundamentalist firebrand preacher the Reverend Ian Paisley, who declared Pope John Paul II the anti-Christ when he addressed the European Parliament in 1988.

In brief | Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)

Mrs Foster has previously met the head of the Catholic church in Ireland, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin.

The head of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Moderator Dr Charles McMullen, earlier said he was “very pleased” to accept an invitation to attend papal visit events at Dublin Castle and Croke Park.

Stormont powersharing between the DUP and Sinn Fein is suspended in a row over identity issues like the Irish language, during which Mrs Foster has faced criticism from republicans.

She has also met Irish speakers and watched Gaelic games as conciliatory gestures.

The pontiff will arrive in Dublin on 25 August for a two-day tour, the first Irish papal visit for almost 40 years.

His tour includes events at Dublin's Phoenix Park, Croke Park and Knock.

The DUP will be the only party that will not have someone attending the events during the Pope's visit.

The Ulster Unionist Party said its leader Robin Swann was unable to attend the papal address as he will be participating in the annual Black Saturday Parade in Larne, County Antrim, but that Robbie Butler would represent the party instead.