Coveney first Irish minister to address the DUP
AGRICULTURE Minister Simon Coveney has made history by becoming the first Irish minister to address delegates at the DUP's annual conference.
He delivered an address as the two-day event got under way on the outskirts of Belfast.
The Fine Gael TD said he was delighted to take part in the conference's rural-affairs breakfast at the La Mon hotel and that it was further proof of the growing trust among politicians on either side of the Border.
"I hope we can develop the kind of friendship and kind of trust politically that's needed between the largest party in Northern Ireland and the largest party in the Republic of Ireland," he told delegates.
Mr Coveney was warmly received by the audience, which included the North's First Minister Peter Robinson and DUP MP Ian Paisley Junior.
He had been invited by the DUP due to the key role that he will have for farmers, North and South, in the current CAP negotiations and as chairman of the group of EU agriculture ministers during Ireland's forthcoming EU presidency.
The DUP used to accuse the State here of meddling in the affairs of the North and of sheltering IRA men on the run. But since the DUP entered into power-sharing with Sinn Fein, relations with the Irish Government have improved dramatically.
While Mr Coveney was delivering his address, a group of TDs and senators were completing their two-day visit to working-class communities of both nationalists and unionists in Belfast.
Fine Gael TD Joe McHugh, who chairs the Oireachtas Good Friday Agreement committee, said they had heard many deeply personal stories.
"The warm hospitality we received in loyalist communities, in particular, was a moving experience for many committee members," he said.
There have been other encouraging signs of the improved cross-border relations. In April, DUP Stormont junior minister Jonathan Bell became the first member of his party to address Fine Gael's conference.
And earlier this month, Taoiseach Enda Kenny broke new ground when he attended a Remembrance Day service in Enniskillen. Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore also attended a Remembrance Day service in Belfast – another first.
And the DUP is taking part in the new North-South Parliamentary Forum, which is made up of politicians on both sides of the Border.