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Arlene Foster misogyny claims over calls to stand down for RHI probe rejected by women politicians

To play sexist card a disservice to women, says Alliance leader

Arlene Foster's claims that calls for her to step aside over the RHI scandal are misogynistic have been rejected by Alliance leader Naomi Long as doing a disservice to women.

The First Minister claimed calls for her to stand aside for an investigation into the multi-million pound debacle were personally motivated and because of her gender.

She described comments on social media as "horrific".

Speaking to the BBC, Economy Minister Simon Hamilton described the comments as "venomous" and based on her gender. He said the comments aimed at the DUP Leader were being "stoked by some within the media and other political parties".

More: First Minister Arlene Foster vows not to quit as she devises strategy to bring down cost of RHI energy scheme

Speaking on Radio Ulster's Stephen Nolan show Alliance leader Naomi Long said the claims calls for Mrs Foster to step aside were because of her gender were "absolutely wrong" and a "distraction tactic" to divert from the issue.

She said: "We have asked the First Minister to step aside without prejudice so that we can investigate, move on, restore confidence and get to the bottom of this.

"If that investigation vindicates Arlene, then she comes back stronger.

"And if it raises more issues then she will have to deal with that.

"But this is not misogynistic, it was the same for Peter Robinson. He voluntarily stood aside to allow for an investigation into what was a much smaller amount of money and came back.

"This is not about misogyny, it is simply about accountability."

The East Belfast MLA said Mrs Foster did a "disservice to women by playing the misogyny and sexist card".

Mrs Long said there was misogyny in Northern Ireland politics but she felt it was less evident between political parties, "though it may be more acute within parties," she claimed.

"To suggest we hold women to a lesser standard than to our male counterparts would be misogynistic.

"One thing that Arlene and I agree on is that woman should be treated equal to men."

More: If Arlene Foster has any sense of outrage and anger she's caused she will step aside, says Sinn Fein's O'Neill

The SDLP North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon said she strongly refuted the misogyny claims, adding: "Our response to this financial scandal would be exactly the same regardless if it was a man, a woman, whether it was a unionist, a nationalist or whatever their political persuasion.

"This is not about Arlene being a woman or a unionist.

"This is about incompetence with possible corruption.

"This blame everybody but the DUP - but Arlene - is a tactic that is fooling no one."

More: It's a DUP scandal but it's their partners Sinn Fein feeling the heat: Suzanne Breen

She added: "Certainly there is an underrepresentation of women in politics as there is sadly still in other sectors especially when you get to higher levels.

"In this case on this issue, this is not about Arlene being a woman or a unionist

"This is about a financial scandal costing the taxpayer potentially £500m.

"It is about finding out how the flawed scheme introduced under Arlene's watch, despite warnings issued that no action taken.

"It is unfortunate we are discussing this matter... which is a distraction, sadly."

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill added: "This is not an Orange and Green issue, or a gender issue. This is about a financial scandal which has the potential to cost the public purse hundreds of millions of pounds.

"The DUP are in denial about the growing public outrage at the misuse of public funds in the RHI scheme and the serious allegations of incompetence, corruption and abuse."

Jim Allister described the claims gender was behind calls for Arlene to stand down as an "hysterical reaction" and "beyond belief".

"What lies behind this is great public distaste and unease at the squander of public money," he said.

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