Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster blames cold for refusal to answer questions at DUP manfesto launch

By Noel McAdam

As usual, Arlene Foster was taking no nonsense at the party's latest election event yesterday.

But she was taking no questions, either.

Even broadcasters were not allowed their usual one-to-one interviews, and were not told about the ban on questions in advance. Instead, as soon as deputy leader Nigel Dodds had finished thanking her, Mrs Foster made a beeline for the exit.

To be fair to the former First Minister, she was a bit under the weather.

"I have been struck down with the cold/man-flu," she confessed.

Many thought it was only men who fell victim to this, especially when women affected by the same condition tend to shrug it off and carry on.

For the most part, this was what Mrs Foster did - presenting a lengthy address with barely a fluff.

But suddenly Mr Dodds thanked the media for turning up - and it was over.

Reporters expect to ask questions at these events, otherwise the parties could just send us their scripts.

BBC NI political correspondent Gareth Gordon tweeted: "I personally have never experienced such a thing."

And another experienced political editor gasped: "Extraordinary."

A DUP spokesman later told the media that Mrs Foster was not well enough to answer questions. So, she was in good enough form to deliver a 3,000-word speech, but not able to handle a few questions?

Perhaps the party had decided to take no chances of a repeat of Mrs Fosters' infamous comparison of republicans to "crocodiles" at the candidates' launch a fortnight ago. Not that her "if you feed a crocodile, it just comes back for more" remark played badly in DUP heartlands.

It underpinned Foster's trademark no nonsense tone also.

However, it allowed the media to run away with reaction to the comment for 48 hours, resonating widely and beyond Northern Ireland. The DUP does not like feeding the media crocodile either.

Back in Peter Robinson's day there were occasions when the media was not permitted to ask many questions - but it was still permitted to ask some. Since Mrs Foster's accession, she has tended to take on all-comers.

Is the change of tack yesterday evidence the party elite - and those special advisers in the background - have less confidence about building their entire election campaign around her?

And where does that leave her authority?

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