Arlene Foster confirms she will meet Pope if he goes to the North

Arlene Foster has said "of course" she would meet the Pope if he goes to Northern Ireland.

The leader of the once-staunchly anti-papist Democratic Unionists, said she understood the significance of such a visit but cautioned against premature excitement.

She said: "I note the Vatican did indicate that they don't confirm visits until six months before any such visit were to take place.

"I think there has been a lot of excitement by some people but we will have to wait and see if that occurs.

"If it does occur, and if he comes as a guest of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as the head of state, of course I will meet him as the head of the Northern Ireland Executive along with the Deputy First Minister."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed Pope Francis would travel to Ireland in August 2018 after a 23-minute meeting with him in the Vatican on Monday morning.

Pope John Paul II was unable to cross the border into Northern Ireland, where he wanted to visit Armagh, during the last papal visit to Ireland in 1979.

Instead, amid a welter of security fears and cross-community tensions, he travelled as far as Drogheda where he addressed hundreds of thousands, including many from the North.

Several years later, former DUP leader Ian Paisley was thrown out of the Strasbourg Parliament for heckling the pontiff while unfolding a poster declaring the Pope to be the anti-Christ.

When asked about sprucing up towns and cities in anticipation of the visit, Mrs Foster said: "I think we better get a visit confirmed first before we start to plan spending money.

"We will have a very difficult budget coming towards us in the next while and we need to very much look at what our priorities will be over the next couple of years.

"Of course, if such a visit is to go ahead and is planned then we will make sure that Northern Ireland looks its best as we try to do for all of the visitors to Northern Ireland."

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