Arlene Foster: Let's find new way of doing business
New First Minister determined to end the culture of bickering in Assembly to move country forward
First Minister Arlene Foster has demanded "a new way of doing business" at Stormont and pledged to help end the culture of bickering in the Assembly.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph on her first day in office, she denied that improving the political atmosphere at Stormont in a pre-election period could prove impossible.
The DUP leader also rejected any assertion that she will have to reassure a section of the party said to be uneasy over her succession.
And she insisted that it was a "moral imperative" to work for the entire community.
Asked to spell out her priorities for the immediate period, the Fermamagh/South Tyrone MLA cited the flooding crisis in her home constituency and elsewhere, educational attainment and the health service.
Just a few hours after taking up office she declined to go into any great policy detail and seemed determined to avoid being controversial.
Her power-sharing partner in office, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, said he had been asked repeatedly in recent weeks how he expected to work with Mrs Foster. "If I can work with Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson I can work with anybody," Mr McGuinness said.
Mrs Foster responded: "I did laugh at that... maybe he thinks I am a softer touch than Ian or Peter."
Asked what she meant by a "new way of doing business", Mrs Foster said: "I think that many people look at Stormont, particularly over the last year, and think it is all bickering and not getting things done."
Last night Mrs Foster posted a photo of herself and her mum - who had proudly watched her daughter take over as First Minister - on Facebook.
And she wrote: "Delighted my Mum, sister Linda Keenan, hubby and a number of dear friends came up to be in the public gallery today to be present as I was sworn in as First Minister."
Earlier, addressing MLAs just after her appointment, she said: "I am tired of Stormont being a watchword for arguing and bickering. That is not why our people elected us; they did so to provide a better future for us all.
"I will do all that I can to change the political culture of this place, but I cannot change it alone. We can do it only by working together.
"I know from experience that it will not be easy - real change never is - but I ask today that we find a new way of doing business, one that places a greater premium on consensus than on conflict."
Asked afterwards whether it would prove impossible to alter the atmosphere at Stormont with just three months to go before the Assembly breaks up for the May 5 election, Mrs Foster said: "I don't think so."
She believes the time is right for the next generation to take up political leadership and argued there was a growing maturity among MLAs determined to make progress.
"It is time for a new generation to step forward, to build on all that has been achieved and to move our country forward," her acceptance speech began. "I want us to live in a more harmonious society, where we seek accommodation with one another, not conflict."
Asked whether she would have to reassure a section of the DUP uneasy because she was the first woman leader and First Minister, and had a Church of Ireland background, Mrs Foster simply said: "No."
She revealed, however, that the party was prepared to consider allowing a free vote to MLAs on the issue of same-sex marriage. She also said she will consider invites which she receives on their merits, including from the GAA.
An announcment about her old Finance Minister's position is expected today.