Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

DUP's Arlene Foster admits to mistakes during leadership saying 'we are all human'

DUP leader Arlene Foster on Talkback. Pic BBC
DUP leader Arlene Foster on Talkback. Pic BBC
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

DUP leader Arlene Foster has admitted to making mistakes over the course of her leadership of the party.

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She said there had been "dark moments" as leader but also there had been many rewarding moments.

The MLA made the admission on the BBC Radio Ulster Talkback show when asked about the issues which have dogged her tenure such as the RHI scandal, the failure to re-establish a power-sharing Executive, Ian Paisley surviving a petition of recall, Brexit and growing anger among loyalist communities.

Mrs Foster - who pointed out she had faced more elections than her predecessor Peter Robinson - said she was committed to restoring devolution, which was the main reason she did not stand for election for a Westminster seat.

"There is much to do in Northern Ireland," she said, "I am not a quitter."

"I am someone who believes in putting forward policies, proposals, our vision and I want to see that delivered through the Assembly."

She said she had at times erred in things she had said.

"To paraphrase the Queen, it would be better said differently or perhaps not at all.

"It is something when you look back and you say there have been mistakes made, but we are all human.

She was asked if she regretted her infamous "feed a crocodile" remark, which many highlighted as helping to galvanise support for Sinn Fein in the 2017 Assembly election.

"You may well say that, I could not possibly comment," she said.

"My motivation has always been to do the right thing at the right time."

She added: "I think it is important everyone reflects on the use of language. I have heard use of language from others during the course of this campaign which quite frankly is not good.

"So I think we all could do with looking at our language if we want to build a shared society as I do."

Nigel Dodds and Arlene Foster with Boris Johnson at last year’s DUP conference

On Brexit she accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of "moving away" from his commitments when asked if it was an error of judgment to trust the Conservative leader.

She denied her party's decision to "step forward" and agree to a regulatory border down the Irish Sea gave leeway to Mr Johnson to get his agreement with the EU.

"But, and very importantly, there was consent up front to that for the NI Assembly and then consent again in four years' time," she said.

On the loyalist rallies which have been held against the deal, Arlene Foster said she would not use language such as "betrayal act", a slogan used at the events.

"It's language Boris would use," she said.

Boris Johnson and Arlene Foster (Niall Carson/PA)

She said she had not attended any such meeting. Deputy leader Nigel Dodds, however, attended one in the Ulster Hall and gave a speech.

She added: "There is nothing wrong with people coming together to show their frustration, in fact I want people to share their frustration, but through the ballot box."

On if the Conservatives returned a working majority in parliament on Friday, she said her party would work with an alliance of others to protect Northern Ireland's interests. She again ruled our working with Labour's Jeremy Corbyn.

On the healthcare crisis enveloping Northern Ireland, Mrs Foster was asked if her party would take the health portfolio in an Executive.

She said whoever took the department, there needed to be a "collegiate decision" made on which parties took which departments and what their aims should be.

She said whoever held the health portfolio, they would have her full support in implementing change across the health service and in seeking money from London, if there was a deal to restore power sharing.

Asked about Jim Wells decision on cutting pay parity between GB and NI health workers - which has helped bring about the current industrial action - she said he had a difficult decision to make, which she supported and said no one in the Executive raised an issue at the time.

The DUP leader was also asked about her party's refusal to appear on the Stephen Nolan show. She said her party was unable to accommodate a request to be on the show denying it was boycotting the presenter. She said her party should have appeared on Tuesday saying they should have been last given they were the biggest party.

She said she had no interest "in media spats".

On the matter of the public inquiry into the Renewable Heating Incentive scandal, she said it would be wrong to comment ahead of its report when asked if she would stand down if it was critical of her.

She admitted she had received a letter from the inquiry offering her a chance to respond to its findings but said it was a matter between her and the inquiry as to if she had taken the opportunity.

She also denied there was a legal threat made against News Letter political editor Sam McBride over his Burned book on the RHI scandal.

"It was not a legal threat, that was Sam's interpretation," she said.

Presenter William Crawley said he had read the letter and it warns of the possibility of legal action.

"I don't see it as a legal threat," she said.

"It is important people don't put themselves in the realms where they get into difficulty - it is more of an advisory piece."

Mrs Foster said she was committed to restoring the Executive.

"We can find a way through if there is a willingness on both sides," she said.

"We want to build a shared society where everyone feels comfortable and where everyone feels their identity is recognised. but not one that imposes one identity on another.

Asked if she would take the post of deputy First Minster if Sinn Fein came out at the largest political party after an Assembly election, Mrs Foster dodged the question.

She said it was important to "actually move forward together, get the Assembly up and running again and make a difference to people's lives."

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