Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein slam Arlene Foster's 'disgraceful, sexist' description of Michelle O'Neill

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill and DUP leader Arlene Foster
Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill and DUP leader Arlene Foster
Michelle O’Neill at a vigil in February for four IRA men who were killed by the SAS in Clonoe

Arlene Foster has been accused of being sexist after she described Sinn Fein chief Michelle O'Neill as an "attractive blonde"

When asked by the Sunday Independent what word she would associate with Mrs O’Neill the DUP leader answered “blonde”.

“Michelle is very attractive. She presents herself very well and she always is, you know, her appearance is always very ‘the same. You never see her without her make-up. You never see her without her hair (looking) perfect.”

Sinn Fein reacted angrily to the remarks and called on Mrs Foster to withdraw them.

MLA Elisha McCallion said the remarks were unacceptable.

"The sexist and disparaging remarks made by Arlene Foster in relation to Michelle O'Neill are nothing short of disgraceful, " said Ms McCallion.

"It is totally unacceptable in the 21st Century for a political leader to characterise another political leader based on the colour of their hair.

"The irony of talking about sexism and misogyny appears to be totally lost on Arlene Foster when she makes such remarks about others.

"For Arlene Foster to talk in such a disparaging manner about someone she supposedly wants to share power with once again highlights the DUP's lack of acceptance of the principles of equality, integrity and respect.

"Arlene Foster and the DUP need to immediately withdraw these offensive remarks which do a disservice to women in politics and to equality and respect."

The DUP chief also  accused Gerry Adams of “handpicking”  Mrs O’Neill as Sinn Fein’s Assembly leader, claiming the Louth TD is now “back in control” of the party.

In a wide-ranging interview she also talks about the impact the RHI scandal had on her personal life, and accuses BBC presenter Stephen Nolan of acting as “judge, jury and executioner” on the matter.

She also hit out at internet trolls who used the RHI fallout to make cruel jibes about her appearance, taunts that were seen by her children and which means she no longer reads Twitter messages.

Mrs Foster called the abuse “horrific”. “Particularly for [my daughter] Sarah who has just turned 17. She is a pretty strong independent girl, like her mother, but there were tears. That was very tough,” she said.

“Of course when you are a female politician your appearance is always under scrutiny (but) some of the things that have been said about my appearance — ‘Is she really a man?’ — that’s pretty hard to take when you are the daughter of that person.

“In December and January it just got so bad that my Twitter account is now (operated by someone else.) It is still me tweeting but I don’t look at it. I took it off my phone.”

Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill
Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill

Mrs Foster confessed that reading the online abuse resulted in her feeling “very low”.  She told the Sunday Independent: “There is a lot of talk, particularly in Northern Ireland, around mental health issues and how people should respect mental health issues.

“There was precious little thought given to my mental health from those people who really had their foot on my neck during that time.”

On comedian Tommy Tiernan‘s controversial joke, which suggested if she was not in politics she would be a farmer who would called her cows fenians rather than friesians (the BBC later apologised), the DUP leader said: “It wasn’t funny, that’s the reality, it was just really very coarse.”

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