Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster: Discussions still ongoing for First Minister nominee and why Brexit is 'biggest challenge since end of Second World War'

Mrs Foster said the election was a 'wake-up call' for unionism

By Claire Williamson

Arlene Foster has said the snap Assembly election was "never about me" and that the DUP have not yet decided who will be put forward as the nomination for First Minister.

Speaking to Sky News for the first time since the catastrophic election for unionism, the DUP leader said the electiion result served as a "wake-up call for unionism in Northern Ireland".

Mrs Foster denied that the election result was "disastrous"  and again refused to state if she will retake the First Minister's position.

When asked what was more important - the restoration of power-sharing in Northern Ireland or Arlene Foster being First Minister?

Mrs Foster responded: "Well you know the answer to that.  Of course it’s never been about me and actually, I pointed out during the election campaign that the election was not about me.  It was about what was good for Northern Ireland and what was the best way ahead for Northern Ireland and of course other parties tried to make it a referendum on me and all sorts of things but it has never been about me and I want to make that very clear. 

"It is about Northern Ireland.  It is about the restoration of devolution and I think that’s where all of our focus should be at this point in time."

Read more:

Arlene Foster: Not stepping down as DUP leader because there is 'work to be done' and how election was 'wake-up call' for unionism 

When asked again if there was scope for an alternative to Mrs Foster as the nomination - the DUP leader said there was still "some way to go" in discussions.

"What I’m saying to you is I have been returned as the leader of Unionism in Northern Ireland.  We as a party will make our determination as to who will be nominated and who will not be nominated in respect of the negotiations and in respect of a return to devolution.  I have to say David we’re not there yet. 

"We have some way to go.  We have to continue with the negotiations in the spirit in which they have begun and I hope that that will happen and I hope that we do get to a situation where we can bring about the return of the devolved administration as quickly as possible."

Mrs Foster denied that the Brexit vote - in which the Northern Ireland public voted to remain- indicated a need for a referendum on a united Ireland.

She said: "No it’s not and of course, even the way in which you ask that question is not quite right because as a United Kingdom we were asked a particular question in relation to our membership of the European Union. 

"We weren’t asked it in terms of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  It was a national question.  We answered it as a national question and of course that means that we’re leaving the European Union. 

"That doesn’t mean that we don’t take into account the very particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, given that we will have a land border with another state that’s remaining with the European Union and of course recognising the history, the geography and the special relationship that there is on this island. 

"So we have to take into account all of those things but we’re leaving the European Union but we need to recognise what has happened here."

When asked how Mrs Foster - whose party was a champion for Brexit - would reassure the concerns of the Northern Ireland public as a whole, the DUP leader said she agreed that logistically Brexit will be the "biggest challenge since the end of the Second World War".

"Well I think Brexit is a game-changer in terms of the whole nation, in terms of the whole United Kingdom.  I think as I would that it’s a marvellous opportunity to strike out as global UK and to do things differently. 

"We can be more innovative, can be more flexible so I think there’s a good future ahead but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I recognise that logistically, I think someone said this will be the biggest challenge since the end of the Second World War and everything that that entailed and that’s absolutely right, particularly for us here in Northern Ireland. 

"We need to get back to dealing with those challenges and planning for those opportunities and certainly, that’s the message that I’m giving not just to the other parties at Stormont but to population as a whole here in Northern Ireland."

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