Belfast Telegraph

Time for Sinn Fein to step up and deliver for all the people, says DUP's Foster

DUP leader Arlene Foster argues there is only one party stalling progress

DUP leader Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster

On Thursday evening the DUP met in Upper Bann for its annual general meeting. As we looked back over the 12 months there were obvious highs and lows.

But taken together, the vision we set out before the people both in the local government election and the European election saw our mandate increase while most other parties suffered losses. People rallied to our positive vision for the country.

The next 12 months have clear objectives: we must see Brexit delivered and devolution restored.

After the leadership of the Conservative Party is settled, we need to see a determined effort to secure a better deal, in line with the Brady amendment, which can command the support of unionists and the House of Commons.

I also want a deal which works for both the UK and the RoI. History should teach us that a one-sided deal does not stand the tests of time.

Over the last few weeks our talks teams have worked intensely, engaging with all parties, to reach a deal to restore Stormont which is fair and balanced.

There has been an increased intensity since the elections because it wasn't just DUP candidates who faced questions about the restoration of the Assembly.

All canvassers were facing exactly the same issues.

On the doorsteps people were talking about rights, but it wasn't just the rights that Sinn Fein wants to focus on.

People were interested in the right to access lifesaving hospital services.

This week I attended a public meeting about stroke services in Fermanagh. Other colleagues have been working on the issue of breast cancer screening.

Restoring the Assembly most fundamentally is about priorities.

Sinn Fein's priorities have been issues that are important to their narrow base.

We've been clear that demands from Sinn Fein will be met with our own demands on behalf of the unionist community.

However, our main message and our main priority has been to focus on the issues which matter to everyone - our schools, our hospitals, our roads, broadband and jobs.

Whatever people's views on issues of language and culture, if you ask them where they rank against breast cancer screening, our children's education or bringing jobs to Northern Ireland, then the vast, vast majority of people recognise what is most important.

Back in August 2017 I made an offer to restore the Assembly immediately and have a talks process running in parallel.

We should never forget just how quickly Sinn Fein rejected that route.

I had barely finished speaking before Connolly House had issued their statement.

My approach was reasonable. We wanted to see a way forward that could be supported by everyone.

Sinn Fein rejected the route of holding parallel talks, but now it is time for them to step up and put solutions on the table which are fair and balanced.

A shared future in Northern Ireland will include those people who value an Irish identity, but the kind of cultural domination Sinn Fein have attempted to push will not be accepted.

In the last decade elements of republicanism have sought to diminish the British identity of people living in Northern Ireland.

Such triumphalism will not build a shared society.

I want to see a Northern Ireland where people with a British and Irish identity feel at home. That will only be achieved when the race to cultural domination ends.

I have given leadership. I have shown the community that I will reach out and respect the Irish identity, but the jury remains out if there will be any similar reciprocation from Sinn Fein.

Arlene Foster MLA is leader of the DUP

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