Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster issues warning to republican dominated councils ahead of 2019 elections

By Gareth Cross

DUP leader Arlene Foster has issued a warning to nationalist and republican controlled councils in Northern Ireland ahead of next year's local elections.

Mrs Foster addressed the issue of equality in her New Year's message.

Northern Ireland will go to the polls in May 2019 to vote in local council elections.

In the last council elections in 2014, the DUP secured the most seats with 130 out of 462, ahead of Sinn Fein on 105, the UUP on 88, SDLP on 66 and Alliance on 32.

Belfast City Council, Newry, Mourne and Down, Mid-Ulster, Fermanagh and Omagh and Derry City and Strabane District Council have a majority of nationalist and republican councillors.

Mrs Foster said that the elections would be an opportunity for people in the west of Northern Ireland to "give their verdict on their nationalist and republican controlled councils".

"Repeatedly, republicans have failed to recognise the unionist minorities in those areas. We will continue to highlight this issue. Those who shout the loudest about respect and equality must start to practice what they preach," she said.

It was announced last month that staff members at Derry City and Strabane District Council would be allowed to wear the Easter lily.

The move will align with the one-week period staff members can wear the Poppy around the time of Remembrance Sunday.

Mrs Foster said that in the elections the DUP will seek a local government mandate based on "good, sound policies", including a pledge to keep rates low and improving access to services for people with disabilities.

In her New Year's message the DUP leader reiterated her desire for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union with a "sensible deal" that works for everyone involved.

"The Prime Minister has promised to get changes to the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement. We will be holding her to that commitment and we will work with the Government to achieve a better deal," the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA said.

"We are very mindful that any deal will bind the hands of future governments and Prime Ministers therefore the legal text must be watertight for the United Kingdom.

"We are also mindful of people in all sectors who are frustrated with the pace of negotiations and the lack of certainty. We share the frustration. As politicians, we have a duty to look to the long-term impact of any deal on our core industries. That’s where our energies will be focused in the coming days."

Mrs Foster said that the DUP wanted to return to Stormont, but that Sinn Fein were making demands her party could not agree to.

January will mark two years since Northern Ireland had a functioning Stormont Assembly.

"Sinn Fein continues to veto the formation of a new Northern Ireland Executive unless we first agree to implement their narrow wish list of republican demands. Of course there is room for a balanced agreement but it is unreasonable to expect unionists to roll-over to every Sinn Fein demand," she said.

"We have used our position in Westminster to help deliver the Belfast City Deal as well as additional funding for schools, roads, hospitals, broadband for rural areas in Northern Ireland and an additional £10m for mental health services.

"We will work for a restored Assembly.  It is in everyone’s interests to have a functioning devolved government which demonstrates that Northern Ireland is at peace with itself."

The DUP leader said that her party was open to agreement on the various issues in 2019, but that her party would only "say yes" to the right deal.

"2019 will be a challenging year with historic decisions to be made but we will work as a team to ensure the right decisions are made," Mrs Foster said.

"We have proved in the past, we will say ‘no’ when it’s a bad deal but we will stand strong for Northern Ireland and say ‘yes’ when it’s the right deal.”

Writing in her own New Year's message Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald said that it was a "disgrace" that there was no Stormont Assembly in place and directed blame at the DUP and the UK and Irish governments.

"Every day that the Executive is suspended undermines the political institutions. Every refusal to recognise rights undermines the political process. The threat to impose Brexit undermines the democratic process," Mrs McDonald

"The DUP know that their deal with the Tories will end. They also know that the refusal of rights is not compatible with equality and power-sharing government. They should also know that there is no good or positive Brexit for the north.

"Sinn Fein is ready for talks, to establish a new Executive working in genuine power-sharing, and operating to the highest standards of governance. A new Executive must include new ways of working, be inclusive of all parties and respect the rights of all the people."

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