Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Foster's efforts to forge more pluralist DUP are welcome

Editor's Viewpoint

DUP leader Arlene Foster has taken significant steps in the past week to reposition her party, and this is to be welcomed. Her engagement with the GAA in Co Fermanagh underlines at a visible public level what has been going on at the grassroots.

This includes her visit to the Eid celebrations, which was another example of reaching out, this time to the Muslim community.

Last week she told a private meeting of the party's AGM that she had accepted an invitation from one of our largest inward investors to attend a Stormont event that will recognise the contribution of the LGBT community to Northern Ireland.

This is clearly the right move, and sets an important new agenda for the DUP in a period of great change.

Mrs Foster has already underlined the primacy of the Union as the key objective of any unionist party.

In so doing she has begun to describe her vision of that Union, and of Northern Ireland as a place to live where people on all sides can be comfortable with diversity of opinion, belief, ethnicity and lifestyle.

Regrettably, in the past the DUP has appeared hostile to gay rights at a time when the law was changing.

And it must be said that this attitude is still evident among some elements within the party.

This has been a constant and most useful source of criticism for opponents of the DUP and of the Union itself.

And it certainly has made life difficult for DUP members, or their family members, who are gay.

Mrs Foster is taking a courageous political step in so acknowledging the contribution of the LGBT community, and this is what leadership looks like.

Undoubtedly she will have critics in her own party and elsewhere, but this is the only viable route of plurality the DUP can take in order to have a large enough mandate to keep Northern Ireland in the Union.

In this context it is significant that Mrs Foster also referred to the Irish identity and Irish speakers, and claimed that some of these are considering voting DUP, as well as Catholics and gays.

Those in the party who may criticise her should note that Mrs Foster has underlined her belief in traditional marriage.

She told the private meeting: "We are not changing our policy on marriage, but I am reaching out to acknowledge the contribution made by a section of our community.

"Just because we disagree on marriage does not mean that I can't say that we value those who are LGBT in our society, and they should not be the subject of hate because of their sexuality."

She also reminded people that "everyone is equal under the law and equally subject to the law".

In saying this, Mrs Foster is showing strongly that it is possible to retain private opinions while supporting the reality of the law.

The steps she has taken recently will draw some of the sting out of the criticisms levelled at the DUP.

This is the party reflecting on what it needs to do to protect the Union.

She summed up the position clearly by saying: "We have everything to gain from respecting cultural difference and we must set an example."

Mrs Foster's actions have been most newsworthy recently, and the DUP needs to reach the position where such initiative and outreach seem as routine as a walk in the park.

At last, thankfully, it has begun that process.

Belfast Telegraph

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