The DUP is not expected to send any representative to a civic reception for Pope Francis in Dublin Castle next weekend after Arlene Foster said she would not attend.
The announcement ends speculation about whether she would accept the invitation as an ‘outreach gesture’ in response to Sinn Fein’s frequent meetings with the British royal family.
The DUP has confirmed that the former first minister had officially declined an invite from the Dublin government to next Saturday’s event, and did not name a substitute. A spokesman said Mrs Foster would be away with her family during the papal visit.
It will be the first visit to Ireland by a pope since John Paul II in 1979. Half a million people are expected to attend the Papal Mass in the capital’s Phoenix Park when Pope Francis visits Ireland to attend the World Meeting of Families (WMOF).
A further 250,000 people will be attending events at the RDS, Croke Park and Knock, but he will not be crossing the border.
There are also indications that the Pope will meet victims of clerical sex abuse at some stage in his itinerary. Abuse survivor Marie Collins, who last year resigned from the Vatican Child Commission, urged the Pope has to say what he is going to do about the issue of clerical abuse.
She said she hopes that the Pope will meet abuse survivors when he visits Ireland next weekend and that they will be able “to challenge him and demand what is necessary. We’re way past apologies.”
Pope Francis is also likely to comment on the recent vote in Ireland to lift the ban on abortion in a statement that could prove uncomfortable for Ireland’s political leaders.
The Pope is also expected to address the plight of Ireland’s homeless. He is to visit Dublin’s Capuchin Day Centre on Saturday August 25, which provides around 1,000 hot meals a day, clothing and showers for some of Dublin’s homeless population.
Spokesman Brian McLoughlin says he hopes the Dublin government will be shamed into action by the Pope. He says Ireland’s homelessness crisis is now gathering attention overseas.
“I would say that Ireland’s homelessness problem is so prolific that it has been brought to the Pope’s attention.
“This is the worst it’s ever been in the history of the state... I hope the Pope does use the position that he has when he’s in Ireland to highlight the homelessness problem and push for change that’s urgently needed.
“The Pope has a huge audience, the world will be watching, he has to highlight the plights in this country and force the government’s hand.”