NI leaders say pandemic has brought parties closer together

The joint leaders of the Northern Ireland Executive have said their efforts totackle Covid-19 have helped to bring their parties closer together.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill saidthat while they have faced challenges over recent months, their response tocoronavirus proves that unionists and nationalists can work together.

The power-sharing Executive was thrown into the middle of a health crisis just weeks after Stormont's parties committed to the New Decade, New Approach deal.

In a joint-interview, the DUP leader said they knew they would be facing a lotof challenges.

"Then in a very short period of time we were dealing with a global pandemiccoming to Northern Ireland," Mrs Foster told the Sky News Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme.

So in many ways, we have to deal with that in a very fast time and we have shown we can work together in difficult times and we are working through it.

Arlene Foster MLA, First Minister

Ms O'Neill said that Covid-19 has brought the political parties "closer together".

Asked what they have personally found most challenging throughout the crisis, Ms O'Neill revealed that both her mother and the DUP leader's mother have been in hospital during the crisis.

I think sometimes people think politicians are a people apart, that somehow we live a different reality, but our reality is the same as everybody else's.

Michelle O'Neill MLA, deputy First Minister

Mrs Foster said: "On a personal level there are two things, one is myhairdresser. When people say to us, 'When are we going to have the hairdresser?

"You realise we need our hairdressers'. I need my hairdresser as much as anybody, it's certainly in need of attention."

"I miss the ordinary things that you take for granted and I think after thisis over, I hope people don't take those sorts of things for granted, that theyactually do value their freedom and all the things we haven't been able todo."

Turning to the crisis within care homes, Mrs Foster said they have made "many interventions" in the private care sector.

"There will be plenty of time to look back to see what else could have beendone or what could have been done differently, but we are dealing with this in a very live time now," she added.

"We both acknowledge that care homes is a critical battlefield for us now andwe still very much want to deal with those issues."

Ms O'Neill said the Executive is making its own decision on how to react toCovid-19, however she added that it "makes sense" to work with their counterparts in the Irish Government.

Mrs Foster said that while she and the Sinn Féin deputy leader come from"completely different political backgrounds" and have different politicalphilosophies, there are things that "we share in common".

"It's the common ground that we've been trying to concentrate on during thiscrisis," she added.

"I think that's what's driving us."