DUP would have had big publicity if one of their leaders had gone to papal events

The media centre at Dublin Castle for the papal visit, Saturday August 25 2018. The centre had work stations for 450+ journalists and 1,200 journalists were accredited, one of the biggest numbers for a media event in Irish history
The media centre at Dublin Castle for the papal visit, Saturday August 25 2018. The centre had work stations for 450+ journalists and 1,200 journalists were accredited, one of the biggest numbers for a media event in Irish history

The DUP decision not to send anyone down to Dublin to attend a reception for the pope attracted media attention in Northern Ireland.

There was further scrutiny of the decision today, when Arlene Foster explained her decision not to go.

“I was the one who received the invitation and it was my decision that I was away out of the country at that time,” she said.

The DUP leader was asked if she had in effect blocked other people such as the deputy editor Nigel Dodds from attending and she replied: “That’s not the way the DUP operates.”#

If, however, someone senior from the party had travelled to Dublin for one of the papal events last weekend, particularly if it had been Mrs Foster, they would have had huge publicity.

The media interest in this visit by Pope Francis was already one of the largest seen for any news event in Irish history.

Some 1,200 journalists from 31 nations around the world accredited with the Irish government to cover the event, to get access to special vantage points at the various locations.

The countries include Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, India, Mexico, Peru, Russia and a large media contingent from America.

During the papal visit there were five media centres (Dublin Castle, Phoenix Park, Knock Airport, Knock Shrine and Croke Park).

The centre in Dublin Castle included a remarkable 450 work station locations — or so the News Letter estimated from counting the number of desks and the number of seats per desk.

At points on Saturday it was hard to find a work station that had not been taken.

A Department of Foreign Affairs official told me that they had been surprised by the level of interest, which surpassed previous major visits to the Republic, including Queen Elizabeth in 2011 — the first by a British monarch since Irish independence.

A Sky news reporter told this newspaper that it was doing hours of live coverage, beamed across the UK (and not just in Ireland) during the two-day visit of Francis.

On Sunday night the visit led the main BBC news across Britain.

Pundits say the fact of a papal visit amid social upheaval on issues such as abortion in a once staunchly Catholic country, and the controversy over sex abuse, was generating the international interest.

If a Protestant unionist leader had broken ground by attending the visit, that would no doubt have heightened the global interest.

Even people who have not heard of specific unionist leaders would have appreciated the symbolic significance of such an occasion on an island that has been divided between Protestant and Catholic since the Reformation 500 years ago.