Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster: My party will not be the obstacle to return of Stormont's institutions

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster

By Arlene Foster

Voters in Thursday's local government elections reinforced the case the DUP accepts and has been making: that the people want their Northern Ireland government back and functioning again.

The best route forward is to have a restored Assembly and hold these talks in parallel.

As we made clear at our recent manifesto launch, a vote for the DUP was a vote for the Assembly back now. We would prefer ministers were appointed tomorrow, alongside discussions on matters parties want addressed, but we will engage wholeheartedly in the Government's process and work assiduously to achieve a resolution.

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The DUP will not be the obstacle to the return of Stormont.

Devolution is important for Northern Ireland and for unionism. Stable functioning government with all political perspectives working together for the people of Northern Ireland is in our interests. It allows us to grow our economy, grow together and enhance outcomes for our people. Instability works against unionism and allows division and polarisation to fester.

The DUP has always been a devolutionist party, back when neither it nor the idea were fashionable. Devolution has to be sustainable, however.

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One of our objectives over the next few weeks will be ensuring the Executive and Assembly cannot be paralysed in the same way again, causing the public and their services to suffer.

Tough choices will inevitably have to be faced at a time of pressures on public finances, and the EU referendum will have to be implemented. Parties cannot duck difficult decisions - or if they seek to, they can't be allowed to pull the whole structure down with them and block those willing to govern.

While some seek to pose as the champions of rights, I will be standing up for the rights of people who want their health reforms, their education reforms and a local devolved government.

The DUP recognises that the issue of the Irish language will have to be dealt with but any package must be fair and balanced.

Northern Ireland has language obligations under international treaties, but the approach need not be gold-plated.

In what has been a divided society, cultural recognition ought to provide equal respect and be appropriate, mindful of the sensitivities of other traditions. All elements of our rich tapestry of influences - British, Irish, Ulster and Scots - should be reflected.

Unfortunately, unionist experience of Sinn Fein's approach around the Irish language down the years only makes it more difficult. We have to find a way to provide recognition for those with an affinity for the language, but equally respect those who do not.

Our commitment to establish a government doesn't blind us to the public frustration over how the Assembly and Executive operated in the past. Too often devolution was characterised by taking smaller decisions and a reluctance to take larger ones.

If Northern Ireland is to flourish, it needs leaders willing to make the decisions that can transform Northern Ireland. We want to be sure a future Executive will be committed to the decisions required to reform.

There are major policy challenges such as health and schools reform, educational outcomes of working-class boys, and a curriculum to deliver genuine mutual respect and understanding where all learn about our history and identity.

I want to address the glorification of terror and the impact it has on those today vulnerable to being trapped in terrorism. We must deliver for innocent victims.

Demands about the Irish language do not trump the genuine and heartfelt demands of people of every background to see progress in their schools, roads and hospitals. A fair and balanced deal is the way forward. This is a shared society, and no side can dominate the other.

Northern Ireland is approaching its 100th birthday as a state - an anniversary many on all sides never thought it would see. What better symbol of its long-term future than a stable, effective cross-community government.

Arlene Foster MLA is DUP leader and a former First Minister

Belfast Telegraph


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