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Opinion: DUP's Arlene Foster burning in a fire of her own making

Crying wolf over sexism, particularly when leading a party with a rich history of it, has exacerbated the First Minister’s problems

By Suzanne Breen

Had Arlene Foster’s political opponents shouted “Moo, moo, moo!” as she spoke, compared her to one of Cinderella’s ugly sisters or advised her to lose a bit of weight, the DUP leader would have been perfectly entitled to allege misogyny.

But Ulster Unionist, SDLP, Sinn Fein, and Alliance politicians are too well-mannered for that. It is male DUP politicians who have hurled unremitting abuse at female MLAs over the years.

So Arlene was on shaky ground when she claimed she was being victimised because she was a woman.

There’s no doubt that some abuse she receives on social media is vicious, vile and sexist.

While cartoon images of her topless or nude are new, misogynistic morons have long ridiculed her physical appearance. She is regularly compared to a dead male EastEnders character.

All too often that is what men who don’t like a woman in the public eye do. They tell her she’s too ugly or old. It’s a way of demeaning her and putting her back in her box.

But none of this should be confused with the legitimate criticism that Arlene has faced over the cash for ash scandal. Confusing toxic tweets with fair comment was disingenuous.

So too was playing the Orange card, with the DUP leader telling us how the IRA tried to kill her dad and planted a bomb on a bus on which she was travelling.

Those two experiences are irrelevant to cash for ash. If Martin McGuinness’s opinion is so reprehensible to Arlene, she shouldn’t have chosen to enter government with him.

And the fact remains that it isn’t just Sinn Fein urging her to stand aside as First Minister. Indeed, the Shinners came very late to that party.

Calls for her temporary resignation were made by every other political leader in Stormont, individuals with no connection to P O’Neill.

And if concern about the Provos remains so high on the DUP agenda, it would be better trying to do something to help the families of Kevin McGuigan or Paul Quinn achieve justice rather than engaging in this nonsense.

When questioned on two separate radio programmes, neither Paul Givan nor Emma Little Pengelly could cite a single example of the sexism that Arlene has allegedly faced from her political opponents.

That proves the paucity of a claim that was likely invented by DUP spin doctors to garner sympathy for their leader.

But it backfired big time, with a Belfast Telegraph online poll showing 96% of the public didn’t buy it.

Far from distracting from the crux of the scandal, the misogyny cry only added fuel to the fire, with the London and Dublin media picking up on a story they previously ignored.

But Arlene’s claim was most devalued by the fact that her party engages in pointed sniping at its political opponents.

Indeed, it’s the rough and tumble of the DUP annual conference which makes it so entertaining.

Recently, Arlene labelled Mike Nesbitt and Colum Eastwood the Steptoe and Son of Northern Ireland politics. As the dad, Mike was cast as the physically dirty old man who sold junk.

And the DUP leader declared that Colum’s only achievement since becoming SDLP leader was growing a beard.

Delivering such sharp put-downs doesn’t create the conditions for sympathy when you’re personally attacked.

Arlene’s sexism charge was far from her greatest, or wisest, moment.

 

On the ropes: Arlene Foster is facing calls to temporarily stand aside

 

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