Belfast Telegraph

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

By Claire Williamson

Arlene Foster has said she has not considered stepping down as DUP leader because there is a "job of work to be done" and that the recent election has served as a "wake-up call" for unionism.

In her first broadcast interview since the catastrophic election for unionism, the DUP leader has again refused to state if she will retake the First Minister's position.

Mrs Foster denied that the election result was "disastrous" but said that it served as a "wake-up call for unionism in Northern Ireland".

Speaking to Sky News Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, Mrs Foster said she would not be standing down as party leader as the mark of a politician is "not what they do during good times but how they tackle the challenges".

"I have a big job of work to do, the party has a big job of work to do and indeed Unionism in general has to step up to the plate now and that’s where I’m focused on," she said.

When pressed on whether she would step aside if the stumbling block to returning devolution was her being First Minister, Mrs Foster again refused to be drawn on it.

Sinn Fein has vowed not to enter power-sharing with the DUP leader as First Minister until the failed Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme, has been investigated.

A public inquiry into the matter has begun work and the judge chairing it has said it will take more than six months to report.

Mrs Foster said: "Well, look we’re in negotiations and that’s what it’s all about at the moment and we certainly can’t, to borrow a phrase from the Prime Minister, engage in a running commentary. 

"Gerry Adams in particular and Sinn Fein in general have talked about who they want to see, or rather who they don’t want to see, as First Minister in terms of the DUP because of course it is up to our party to decide who our nominee would be and I have said all throughout the week that if we get into the territory where we’re each telling each other who to select, well we want to of course say to Sinn Fein we think you should select X,Y and Z instead of A, B and C. 

"So you know they can’t tell us who to select as our nominees and likewise, we can’t tell them.

Mrs Foster said that she wouldn't characterise the election result as "disastrous" but that it had caused a "shock" within unionism.

She said: "Indeed, we increased our vote by some 23,000.  It just so happened that we were in a situation where we were moving to five seats instead of six seats per constituency so we were always going to see a reduction in the number of seats that we held and as well as that the nationalist turnout increased so I think that has caused a shock if you like, certainly within Unionism. 

"A lot of people have been talking to me since last Friday when the results were becoming known and a great sense of shock and how could this happen?  And I think it has been a bit of a wake-up call in terms of Unionism in Northern Ireland."

When asked what she would term it as instead of disastrous Mrs Foster said she always knew it was gong to be "very close".

"I said it was going to be close and people really needed to come out and they needed to realise that it was a choice between Sinn Fein’s radical Republicanism or the vision that we had for Northern Ireland which was a positive vision within the United Kingdom, outside of the European Union. But unfortunately they were able to mobilise Nationalism in a more effective way than Unionism and what we have then was in fact a very, very close election in so far as I think on first preference votes, there was a little over 1,000 between us."

The full interview will be aired on Sky News - Sophy Ridge on Sunday (12/03/2017)

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