DUP leader Arlene Foster proposes NI bridge to Scotland

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Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster has called on Scots to back proposals for a bridge to Northern Ireland.

Ms Foster said there was "growing support" for the idea as she addressed an Orange parade in Fife.

She was the main speaker at the Cowdenbeath event, organised by the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland.

The DUP proposed a feasibility study into building a bridge to Scotland in 2015.

Ms Foster joined about 4,000 marchers for the annual Battle of the Boyne event from Beath High School in Cowdenbeath.

image captionArlene Foster called for a bridge to be built between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

She told the crowd: "The connection between our two countries has always been special.

"What better way to cement that relationship than through a bridge?"

She called on Orange supporters to get behind the idea and said detractors lacked vision.

'Use Brexit'

"Amongst all the nasty and abusive comments made about the Orange. wouldn't it be great to become an actual bridge builder between Northern Ireland and Scotland?

"Whilst some foolishly attempt to use Brexit to build a border between Scotland and Northern Ireland, we are more progressive, we want to build a bridge", she said.

The Scottish government said any such project would have to be built on a "robust" business case.

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image captionOrganisers said it was an "honour" to have Ms Foster as their guest

A spokesman said: "We are keen to explore all potential opportunities for improving Scotland's transport links, but as with all proposed infrastructure investment, decisions would need to be founded on a robust business case."

Ms Foster, who was Northern Ireland's first minister until January 2017, has drawn criticism for her attendance at the event in Fife.

The SNP has previously questioned whether it was "a sensible idea".

A spokesman added: "With the Northern Ireland Assembly suspended, it's surprising Arlene Foster has the time to visit an orange walk in Fife when her priority should be getting Stormont back up and running."

'Prominent female'

Her party's 10 MPs have been propping up Theresa May's minority UK government since the Conservatives lost their majority in last year's general election.

Speaking ahead of the event, Robert McLean - executive officer for the Grand Lodge of Scotland - said it was an honour that Ms Foster was taking part.

He added: "We're absolutely delighted that Arlene Foster has accepted out invitation to come to Cowdenbeath and will be the first prominent female to address our members."

The Orange Lodge also said attendance by Northern Ireland politicians at Scottish parades was not unusual, with former first ministers Peter Robinson and David Trimble having done so in the past.

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image captionThe gathering celebrated the Battle of the Boyne

The parade is expected to be among the biggest in Scotland and will involve lodges from Fife, Edinburgh, the Lothians and parts of Stirlingshire.

Marchers celebrate the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690 when William III - the Dutch-born Protestant better known as William of Orange or King Billy - defeated the Catholic King James II in County Meath.

Northern Ireland has been without a government since January last year, after a power-sharing deal between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin collapsed.

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