Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Arlene Foster: Union will be guiding star in forging deal with Theresa May's Conservatives

DUP leader Arlene Foster has pledged to work in the interests of the entire United Kingdom as she expressed willingness to help Theresa May form a government.

The former Stormont first minister, who led her party to 10 seats in the Westminster election, said the DUP would strive for the best deal, not only for Northern Ireland but for the UK as a whole.

While Mrs Foster vowed to bring stability to Westminster, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams poured scorn on the anticipated confidence and supply deal between the Conservatives and DUP.

"History will show, alliances between Ulster unionism and British unionism has always ended in tears," he said.

"It is far better to look to our own place, to all of the people here, to deal with the people of this island, this part of the island as one community."

Flanked by her 10 MPs, Mrs Foster confirmed the party would enter discussions with the Tories to "explore how it may be possible to bring stability to our nation at this time of great challenge".

Mrs Foster described her party's resounding victory in Northern Ireland as "truly historic".

DUP press conference

Posted by Belfast Telegraph on Friday, June 9, 2017

The Democratic Unionists have emerged from the election in the enviable position of being king makers at Westminster.

"Yesterday also represented a great result for the Union," said Mrs Foster.

"Not just here in Northern Ireland but right across our United Kingdom.

"Those who want to tear apart the Union that we cherish and benefit from so hugely have been sent a clear and resounding message."

"In the days and weeks ahead, it is that Union that will be to the forefront of our minds. The Union is our guiding star.

"We may represent Northern Ireland constituencies in the House of Commons but we are as seized of the interests of the Kingdom as a whole as we are for our small province.

"I make no apology for saying that the DUP will always strive for the best deal for Northern Ireland and its people. But equally, we want the best for all of the United Kingdom."

Ms Foster described the uncertainty facing the UK, following the recent terror attacks, the close run election and Brexit negotiations on the horizon.

She added: "Our United Kingdom - and indeed our very way of life - are under threat from extremists."

Ahead of the talks with Conservatives, a senior DUP member said any deal would not extend beyond a confidence and supply arrangement.

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said his party was in a "fantastic position to deliver for Northern Ireland".

Prime Minister Theresa May has announced that she will work with "friends and allies" in the DUP to enable her to lead a government.

Before the 2015 election, with the pollsters predicting a hung parliament, the DUP ruled out a potential formal coalition with the Conservatives, instead indicating its support would be offered in a confidence and supply arrangement from the opposition benches.

Mr Robinson said: "We have essentially got the result we were campaigning for two years ago.

"It didn't materialise then but we campaigned on the basis of a hung parliament two years ago.

"I think that puts us in a fantastic position to deliver for Northern Ireland."

The DUP made its position clear in the election campaign that it wanted a Tory government.

In a speech cancelled in the wake of the Manchester terror attack, Mrs Foster planned to describe Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as "beyond the political pale" because of his past support for Irish republicans.

The DUP and Sinn Fein dealt a series of devastating blows to their rivals in Northern Ireland to emerge from the General Election stronger than ever.

The two main parties advanced as the Ulster Unionists and SDLP were wiped off the Westminster map.

Sinn Fein's seven MPs did not factor as part of calculations to form a government because the republican party refuses to take its seats in Westminster.

Mr Adams, who insisted the abstentionist policy would not change, hailed what he described as an "historic result" for his party.

"Sinn Fein respects the mandate we have received and our electorate who voted in such huge numbers," he said.

"Nationalists and republicans have turned their back on Westminster and accept that the centre of political gravity is now on the island of Ireland."

He rejected Mrs Foster's assessment that the Union had been strengthened and repeated his call for a referendum on Irish unity.

"What value is the Union if we have poverty, division, deficiencies in our education system and health system and homelessness?" Mr Adams asked.

He called on the DUP and Irish government to focus on restoring devolution to crisis-hit Stormont.

"Theresa May sought a mandate for Brexit, austerity and the erosion of human rights," Mr Adams added.

"She got her comeuppance."

Foster's leadership a political rollercoaster ride

Arlene Foster's tenure as DUP leader has been a political rollercoaster ride of remarkable highs and lows.

From the peak of her elevation to Stormont first minister's office to the valley of being forcibly removed from her job amid a green energy scandal, she is once again on a steep upward trajectory as Theresa May's political kingmaker.

The Co Fermanagh politician who faced down deafening calls to quit just months ago now essentially holds the keys to Downing Street.

Mrs Foster took over from retiring Peter Robinson early last year in a seamless transition, and defied the pundits to repeat the DUP's best ever election result in the 2016 Assembly poll.

The 46-year-old former solicitor, who survived two horrific childhood experiences of IRA violence, carried vast moral authority among unionist voters to govern alongside Sinn Fein.

She and erstwhile foe Martin McGuinness pledged a new start for Stormont and in the months following the election a non-aggression pact in which they declined to criticise each other looked to have put the institutions on their most stable footing for years.

RHI scandal

But controversy around her handling of a botched Renewal Heat Incentive (RHI) eco-energy scheme blew that asunder.

The total RHI spend in Northern Ireland is estimated at over £1 billion over the next 20 years.

The Treasury is set to cover £660 million of that, with Stormont landed with the remaining £490 million.

Mr McGuinness quit - a move that forced Mrs Foster from office - and in the subsequent snap Assembly election in March this year the gap between the DUP and Sinn Fein was reduced from 10 seats to just one.

Three months on and devolution has yet to be restored, with the main parties seemingly as far apart as ever on striking a deal that would enable Mrs Foster to return to the first minister's office.

More questions were asked about her leadership in the wake of the Assembly result, but after another poll not of her choosing - the General Election - she again stands apparently unassailable as the leader of unionism.

Mrs Foster grew up near the Irish border during the darkest days of the Troubles.

Born Arlene Kelly in 1970 near the village of Rosslea in rural Co Fermanagh, the early part of her childhood was described as idyllic.

But, by the age of eight she gained first-hand experience of the bloody sectarian conflict which blighted Northern Ireland for decades when the IRA tried to murder her father, a farmer and reserve police officer.

She has spoken of the trauma of seeing him come crawling into their isolated farmhouse on all fours with blood streaming down his face after being shot in the head.

He survived the attack but the family were forced to flee their home and the young Mrs Foster had to change school.

As a teenager in 1988, Mrs Foster survived another republican attack when the IRA targeted the part-time Ulster Defence Regiment soldier who was driving her school bus.

The Collegiate Grammar School student escaped relatively unscathed but a friend sitting close by suffered serious injuries.

Solicitor by profession

A solicitor by profession, Mrs Foster still lives in Fermanagh with her husband and three children - a daughter and two sons.

Her political career began while studying law at Queen's University in Belfast where she joined the Unionist Association, part of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).

Although she worked in private practice for more than a decade after graduating, she remained politically active, chairing the UUP's youth wing and becoming an honorary member of the party's ruling council.

Her political teeth were cut as a councillor on Fermanagh District Council where she represented the Enniskillen ward for five years.

Defection to DUP

But just weeks after being elected to the Assembly in 2003 she, alongside Jeffrey Donaldson, now a DUP MP, decided to quit the UUP.

The pair had been part of a tight-knit group dubbed the "baby barristers" who opposed the Good Friday Agreement, the release of paramilitary prisoners and the direction in which their leader, David Trimble, was taking the party, sharing power with Sinn Fein.

After defecting to the DUP in January 2004, her rise through the ranks was rapid with high-profile roles including the environment and enterprise, trade and investment portfolios.

As DETI (Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment) minister from 2008 to 2015, she toured the world promoting Northern Ireland and was instrumental in bringing major events, including the MTV European Awards, the Irish Open golf tournament and the Giro d'Italia cycling race, to the region.

That famous road race had plenty of twists and turns.

Almost as many as Mrs Foster's time as DUP leader.

George Osborne's Evening Standard sticks the boot into May

Meanwhile former chancellor George Osborne's Evening Standard has stuck the boot into Mrs May, saying her "authority is non-existent"

A damning editorial piece published in Friday's paper states: "We now have a minority Conservative government that is in office but not in power.

"The DUP does not support some central tenets of the Government’s economic and welfare plans.

"In this topsy-turvy world, the decisions that affect London will now be taken in Belfast.

"She herself said: "If I lose just six seats, I will lose this election". Team May lost twice that number.

"As an unelected premier, she had every right to seek a mandate. But she failed to frame what the election was about."

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