| 4.5°C Dublin

Warm welcome as smiling Robinson gets to grips with Gaelic football

A DEBUT appearance by the North's First Minister Peter Robinson at a GAA match has been hailed as "a little piece of history" by his deputy Martin McGuinness.

The DUP leader was a guest of the Ulster Council for the final of the Dr McKenna Cup between Derry and Tyrone in Armagh on Saturday night.

Ardent Derry fan Mr McGuinness said Mr Robinson got a "warm reception".

A smiling Mr Robinson, who didn't indicate who he was cheering for, appeared to enjoy the game which saw Tyrone come out winners.

Mr Robinson said: "I have consistently been saying that we have to get away from the 'them and us' politics.

"We have to be able to show respect for each other's traditions so it's good to be here."

The DUP leader added: "I have had several meetings with the GAA, at a meeting-to-meeting level and when the invitation came I was glad to take it up.

"I'm not sure if I have caught all the finer points of the game, but I'm on the side of the referee on this one!"

Mr McGuinness said that Mr Robinson's attendance was evidence of his "inclusive approach" and was "another little piece of history".

"Peter got a very warm reception from everyone he met at the game. It was wonderful to have him there," Mr McGuinness added.

In a move regarded as a significant development for community relations, Mr Robinson was welcomed by Ulster Council president Aogan O Fearghail.

"The attendance of the first minister follows a series of engagements that have taken place involving him and his officials over the past number of years, led by our provincial director Danny Murphy," said Mr O Fearghail.

Security was described as low key and Mr Robinson arrived following Amhran na bhFiann.

Also present was Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin, whose attendance at a Northern Ireland football match in August was also regarded as significant to the advance of community relations.

She became the first senior Sinn Fein representative to attend an international soccer match at Windsor Park, the Belfast home of Linfield.

Speaking after the match, Mr O Fearghail said: "As an association, we are committed to a shared future for all in Ireland.

"The presence of the first minister at tonight's match is part of that engagement process and something I warmly welcome."

The DUP's deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: "It demonstrates a very clear message and signal to people that we are moving forward in Northern Ireland."

Irish Independent