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Arlene Foster's mea culpa is lesson for politicians

Editor's Viewpoint

Arlene Foster may not have actually said sorry for her description of Sinn Fein as crocodiles, but she came as near as possible with her expression of regret instead of uttering the phrase.

Her contrition is undoubtedly heartfelt since she now accepts that it was used by republicans as a rallying cry during what was a toxic election campaign that ended with Sinn Fein failing by a narrow margin to overtake the DUP as the largest party in the province.

And, judging by her reticence in confirming that she will go forward again for nomination as First Minister, she may fear that she has been seriously damaged by the way she ran her election campaign.

It was a tactical blunder by the former First Minister to use such a derogatory description of her political opponents at a time when she was already under pressure from the RHI debacle and her party colleague's removal of funding for the Irish language.

The fallout from the remark should serve as a warning to all politicians in Northern Ireland about the dangers of careless use of language - or indeed deliberate attempts to demean opponents - especially in the tinderbox atmosphere of an election campaign.

But she is not alone in being guilty of such behaviour. Remember Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams describing unionists as b******* during a party meeting in Fermanagh in November 2014, or the party's new northern leader Michelle O'Neill's dismissal of comments made by Secretary of State James Brokeshire during talks this week as waffle.

These comments are merely playing to the audience of their most hardline supporters and are the sort of jibes more in keeping with the playground than among political figures who should know all too well the consequences of demonising opponents.

The 90 politicians who gained seats in last week's election have been sent back to Stormont to save devolved government.

There is little or no appetite among the general public for another protracted session of direct rule while the parties attempt to dig themselves out of the holes they created during the campaign.

As PSNI widow Kate Carroll so pertinently pointed out this week, our politicians have to find a way to create a society in which all shades of opinion are respected.

There are violent people waiting in the wings if they fail. Cool heads and mature words are needed, not catcalls.

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