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Calling O'Neill 'blonde' was a compliment, insists Foster

By Staff Reporter

Former First Minister Arlene Foster has hit back at criticism she received for describing Michelle O'Neill as "blonde".

There was outrage after the DUP leader, in a wide-ranging interview with last weekend's Sunday Independent, described Mrs O'Neill's appearance when asked for her thoughts on her political rival.

Critics branded the comments sexist, while Mrs O'Neill said there could be no place for sexism in society.

Mrs Foster responded to the backlash yesterday, insisting her words were positive.

"They (the remarks) were meant as a compliment," she told the BBC. "If they have been taken any other way, that is a matter for people who have taken them the other way."

Asked if she regretted the comments, or if they could be seen as sexist, the DUP leader repeated that they were meant to be compliments.

She said the response showed more "about Sinn Fein than it does about me".

Mrs Foster sparked outrage when she was pressed to give a one-word response on Sinn Fein northern leader Mrs O'Neill.

"I don't want to be sexist and I am not going to be sexist because I can't...," she said.

After Mrs Foster paused, the interviewer told her, "Go on, it's not sexist if it's true", after which Mrs Foster said, "blonde".

Asked to expand, she went on: "Michelle is very attractive. She presents herself very well and she always is - you know - her appearance is always the same."

But Mrs O'Neill said the comments were unacceptable and irresponsible.

"As political leaders we have a duty and a responsibility to lead by example," she added.

"There is a clear need for more women in public life, and there is an onus on women in political leadership to empower women.

"There can be absolutely no room in our society for sexism, misogyny, racism, homophobia or any form of discrimination."

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