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I'll work with Sinn Fein for good of all despite our differences on constitutional question: Arlene Foster


First Minister Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP (Michael Cooper/PA)

First Minister Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP (Michael Cooper/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

First Minister Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP (Michael Cooper/PA)

Arlene Foster has told MLAs that she disagrees with Michelle O'Neill on Northern Ireland's constitutional future but they share "common ground" in wanting to improve health, education and employment here.

Mrs Foster was speaking during her first question time as First Minister in the Assembly, which passed without any friction.

TUV leader Jim Allister asked her if Sinn Fein was committed to making Northern Ireland work or if it was just using Stormont as a "stepping stone" to Irish unity.

Mrs Foster said that she and the Deputy First Minister shared different views on "where we would like to see Northern Ireland in 10 years' time", but they could work together on health, education, employment and infrastructure.

"It is important that we focus on what unites the people of Northern Ireland. They want to see a functioning Executive and one which delivers for all its people," she said.

During the 45-minute session, Mrs Foster revealed that the Treasury wasn't offering any additional money for Troubles pensions and that funding would come from Northern Ireland's block grant.

She said that the Executive would be raising the matter with the Government.

Mrs Foster called on the institutions linked to historical institutional child abuse to "step forward" in terms of providing financial redress to victims. The first compensation payments will be made this spring with recommendations ranging from £7,500 to £100,000 following a public inquiry chaired by the late Sir Anthony Hart.

This process took too long, yet I am also pleased for the victims of this terrible abuse that we have got to this point. Arlene Foster

Mrs Foster said she wanted to pay tribute to campaigners who had fought for justice for victims.

"This has been a long and a difficult journey, and it was their commitment that got us to this point today," she said.

"This process took too long, yet I am also pleased for the victims of this terrible abuse that we have got to this point."

Mrs Foster was then pressed by Sinn Fein MLA Linda Dillon over concerns among victims about where the money to compensate them will come from.

"I want to reassure those victims that the money will have to be found, because we have given a commitment that we will follow through on this report and the many recommendations that were put in place, and we intend to do that," she said.

"We will engage not only with the Westminster Government but also with the many institutions that have been involved throughout the years on this issue.

"I think it is incumbent upon those institutions to step forward as well, not only in a moral way but indeed in terms of the financial redress as well, and that is something we will be continuing to take up."

During her first question time, DUP Economy Minster Diane Dodds was asked about proposals to close the RHI scheme, which will be replaced with a new subsidy initiative.

The DUP minister pledged that her officials would not repeat the mistakes of the 'cash for ash' scandal in the new scheme.

She said that Northern Ireland wasn't performing as well as it should in renewable heat production.

Mrs Dodds said that her department had commissioned two reviews relating to the RHI scheme. She expected them to be published fairly soon.

She said that closing down the scheme involved "complexities" and that officials would engage with RHI claimants in a fair and compassionate way.

The department had offered a "voluntary buyout" option for claimants with 96 applications received but no offers yet made.

Sinn Fein MLA Caral Ni Chuilin asked DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots about post-Brexit subsidy payments to farmers.

He pledged that he would make an announcement soon. The UK Government has guaranteed payments for this year.

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