Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster: Time to work together on what matters ... like schools and hospitals

Rival party leaders spell out their vision for getting Assembly running again

Arlene Foster on election night
Arlene Foster on election night

By Arlene Foster

It is time to get Northern Ireland moving again.

 So many parts of our society are moving forward apace. The skylines are dotted with cranes building new homes and offices. The red tour buses are a permanent fixture in Belfast city centre and there seems to be a cruise ship always docked in the shadow of Samson and Goliath.

As I travel the M1 each morning, we grind to a halt around Sprucefield. It is normal to crawl alongside a Paddywagon with tourists snoozing against the window or two or three huge coaches joining the M1 from Dublin with a sign in the window for "Titanic Belfast" or "Giants Causeway".

All of these little norms are taken for granted today by our children, but yet when we were their age, the idea of a cruise ship docking in Belfast was beyond our imagination.

These are signs of how our society is moving in the right direction, but one part is stalled and that is at Stormont.

When I was nominated for First Minister in January 2016 I spoke from the heart in the Assembly Chamber.

"Leadership has many facets and many responsibilities but there is no greater challenge than to motivate and to encourage and to inspire ... I want us to live in a more harmonious society where we seek accommodation with one another and not conflict ... Those in positions of responsibility in Government cannot do everything but we can act as an example to others."

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Our example over the last three years has not been what it ought to have been. There are many things we have got wrong but most of all we have stimulated division.

Division can help win elections by polarising but it is deeply damaging for the longer-term. We need to work together to focus on what matters for people, such as their schools and hospitals.

Working together means speaking honestly at times but it must also mean moving forward.

Sinn Fein has blocked devolved government for three years. The politics of ransom is no way to govern. It has been crippling for our public services. I will speak with all parties on Monday and I will seek to bring us back to the principles which helped us deliver devolution.

As I said in January 2016: "I want the same opportunities for every child in Northern Ireland as for my own. I want no section or part of the community in Northern Ireland to be isolated, marginalised or left behind whatever their background or way of life.

"That was Edward Carson's vision of the Union and it is mine too.

"The best way to safeguard our history and culture and traditions is to make sure that we create a society in which everyone can have a say and play a part."

As we step back and look at the election results, all parties can agree that the restoration of devolution was by far the number one issue raised on the doorsteps.

Its restoration must be our number one priority over the coming days.

We must work together to build sustainable institutions which cannot be collapsed unilaterally again and we must work for a deal which is fair and balanced to every community we represent.

Arlene Foster is DUP leader

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