First Minister Arlene Foster: Sinn Fein is downplaying hopes to fool unionist voter
Arlene Foster has accused Sinn Fein of "deliberately downplaying expectations" over how well it will do in the Stormont election to lull unionists into a "false sense of security".
As voters prepare to go to the polls tomorrow to elect the next Assembly, the DUP leader issued a final warning over the prospect of Martin McGuinness replacing her as First Minister.
Mrs Foster said that would become "headline news... across the world" and could leave unionists in a minority on the Executive.
Making another call for support, she criticised parties which had argued it did not matter who becomes First Minister when the new Assembly meets towards the end of this month.
Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Foster warned: "Sinn Fein have been deliberately downplaying expectations in order to lull unionists into a false sense of security, but you can be sure that in this, the 100th anniversary of the Easter rebellion, their goal is to win this election.
"The role of First Minister has huge symbolic significance at home and abroad.
"You can be certain that were Martin McGuinness to become First Minister this would be headline news not just in Northern Ireland, but right around the world. Of course, in our system of government, we need to work with other parties to get things done, but it is essential that we can negotiate with them from a position of strength."
Sinn Fein responded last night: "Under the Good Friday Agreement the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister is a joint position of equal powers. (We) will be going into Thursdays' election to maximise our vote and number of representatives."
Martin McGuinness is on record as saying that if Sinn Fein emerged as the largest party, he would be willing to have the title changed to Joint First Minister.
Mrs Foster argued: "There are others who claim that it does not matter who wins the election and becomes Northern Ireland's First Minister. If this were the case, you would wonder why they are even contesting the election. The largest party will also get the first choice of departments and most seats around the Executive table.
"Indeed, a Sinn Fein First Minister would almost certainly mean unionists would be in a minority in the Executive."
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said: "I have seen the First Minister and Deputy First Minister out and about, in Northern Ireland and abroad, most recently in the USA, and it is clear that what people acknowledge is the joint nature of the office. That is the real symbolism.
"Given the titanic failures of the DUP over the last nine years, it is no surprise they are trying to deflect from their track record, but they created this situation following the St Andrews negotiations by supporting a change in the election of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, which they are now cynically exploiting in 'Project Scaremonger'."
TUV leader Jim Allister said: "The DUP have kept Sinn Fein in government since 2007. Yet now at election time, as they have done before, Mrs Foster resorts to the scare tactic that you must vote DUP to keep Sinn Fein out. It is the DUP which has kept Sinn Fein/IRA in power and will again make Martin McGuinness Joint First Minister."