Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Arlene Foster: I'm ready to talk - DUP leader pledges to lead party into negotiations

Sunday Life Exclusive: Time to talk - Foster and O'Neill set to go head to head

DUP leader Arlene Foster and party member Simon Hamilton MLA speak to the media before talks at Stormont Castle.
Photo by Peter Morrison / PressEye Wednesday 8th March 2017
DUP leader Arlene Foster and party member Simon Hamilton MLA speak to the media before talks at Stormont Castle. Photo by Peter Morrison / PressEye Wednesday 8th March 2017
DUP Leader Arlene Foster and Simon Hamilton pictured at Sormont Castle in Belfast. Picture By: Arthur Allison - Pacemaker Press Belfast 08-03-2017
Sinn Féin's leadership team pictured talking to the media at Stormont Castle, in Belfast. Sinn Féin MLAs left their brief meeting with Secretary of State James Brokenshire. Picture By: Arthur Allison: Pacemaker Press Belfast
Sinn Féin's leadership team pictured talking to the media at Stormont Castle, in Belfast. Sinn Féin MLAs left their brief meeting with Secretary of State James Brokenshire. Picture By: Arthur Allison.
Secretary of State James Brokenshire pictured at Sormont Castle in Belfast. Picture By: Arthur Allison. Pacemaker Press Belfast
Pictured DUP Leader Arlene Foster addresses the media accompanied by party deputy Nigel Dodds Picture: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Sinn Fein holding a press conference on the first working day after the recent Election. Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire is to meet Stormont party leaders later to try to persuade them to form a new power-sharing executive. Pictured Gerry Adams waves to a group of Chinese tourist from Shanghai visiting Stormont as the Sinn Fein Electoral team pose for photos of the steps of Parliament Buildings. Picture: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry speaks to the Media with party members Kellie Armstrong and Stewart Dickson at Stormont on Monday , following the recent election results at the weekend. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood with Party MLA's speak to the media at Stormont on Monday, following the recent election results at the weekend. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press 06/03/2017
Tom Elliott and Mike Nesbitt from the UUP speak to the media at Stormont on Monday , following the recent election results at the weekend. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press 06/03/2017
Northern Ireland parties return to Stormont after last eek's Assembly election. Sinn Fein's president Gerry Adams meets school children on the steps of Stormont's Parliament Buildings, east Belfast. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Northern Ireland parties return to Stormont after last eek's Assembly election. Sinn Fein's president Gerry Adams pictured going past a portrait of the former First Minister and DUP leader Ian Paisley as he leads his party to talk to the media on the steps of Stormont's Parliament Buildings, east Belfast. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Northern Ireland parties return to Stormont after last eek's Assembly election. Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill meets school children on the steps of Stormont's Parliament Buildings, east Belfast. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Pictured Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and Michelle O'Neill looking towards the image of the late Ian Paisley hanging in the Great Hall before holding a press conference.
DUP Leader Arlene Foster pictured with Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds at Stormont on the first day back to the Assembly after the Elections. Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.
Sinn Fein President and Michelle O'Neill with Party MLA's during a media Call at Stormont
Pacemaker Press Belfast 06-03-2017: DUP Leader Arlene Foster pictured with Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds at Stormont in Belfast on the first day back to the Assembly after the Elections. Picture By: Arthur Allison.
Sinn Fein's leadership team , Michelle O'Neill and Gerry Adams speak to the media during a press conference on the Falls road in West Belfast. Photo by Peter Morrison / PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 4 March 2017 - Sinn Fein's leadership team , Michelle O'Neill, Mary Lou McDonald and Gerry Adams take a selfie following a press conference on the Falls road in West Belfast. Photo by Peter Morrison / PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 4 March 2017 - Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams take a selfie following a press conference on the Falls road in West Belfast. Photo by Peter Morrison / PressEye
DUP party chairman Lord Morrow (right) with DUP leader Arlene Foster at Omagh count centre as he failed to be re-elected in Northern Ireland's Assembly election. PA
DUP party chairman Lord Morrow (left) with DUP leader Arlene Foster at Omagh count centre as he failed to be re-elected in Northern Ireland's Assembly election. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Sinn Fein candidate for Fermanagh South Tyrone Sean Lynch celebrates at the Omagh count centre having been deemed elected in Northern Ireland's Assembly election. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 3, 2017. See PA story ULSTER Election. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Returned Green Party MLA Clare Bailey (right) celebrates with supporters at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast at the Northern Ireland Assembly election count. PA
Returned Green Party MLA Clare Bailey (centre) celebrates with supporters at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast at the Northern Ireland Assembly election count. PA
Returned SDLP MLA Nicola Mallon celebrates with supporters at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast at the Northern Ireland Assembly election count. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 3, 2017. See PA story ULSTER Election. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
OMAGH, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 03: Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew (R), Sean Lynch (C) and Jemma Dolan (L) celebrate winning their three seats in the Fermanagh South Tyrone election as the Northern Ireland Stormont election count takes place on March 3, 2017 in Omagh, Northern Ireland. Voters went to the polls for the second time in 10 months after the collapse of the power sharing executive government. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Sinn Fein candidates for Fermanage South Tyrone Jemma Dolan (left), Sean Lynch and Michelle Gildernew at the Omagh count centre having been deemed elected in Northern Ireland's Assembly election. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 3, 2017. See PA story ULSTER Election. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Returned UUP MLA Andy Allen speaks with media at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast at the Northern Ireland Assembly election count. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 3, 2017. See PA story ULSTER Election. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Leader Arlene Foster celebrates as she is elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly at the count centre in Omagh, Co Tyrone, Northern Ireland, on March 3, 2017. Northern Ireland has voted in snap elections to resolve a political crisis fuelled by bad blood and Brexit, which is testing the delicate peace in the British province. / AFP PHOTO / Paul FAITHPAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 03: Orlaithi Flynn stands for a photograph after Sinn Fein won four seats in West Belfast in the Northern Ireland assembly election on March 3, 2017 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A snap election was called following the resignation of the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness, with indications showing that voter turnout yesterday was considerably higher than in May last year. Voters went to the polls yesterday for the second time in 10 months after the collapse of the power sharing executive government. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
DUP candidates William Humphrey and Nelson McCausland at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast for the Northern Ireland Election count. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 3, 2017. See PA story ULSTER Election. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
UUP Party Leader Mike Nesbitt, followed by his wife Lynda Bryans and son PJ Nesbitt, after announcing his resignation at the Park Avenue Hotel, after his party failed to make a breakthrough in the Northern Ireland Assembly election. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 3, 2017. See PA story ULSTER Election. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill speaks to members of the media after arriving at the count centre for the Northern Ireland Assembly elections in Belfast, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland, on March 3, 2017. Northern Ireland has voted in snap elections to resolve a political crisis fuelled by bad blood and Brexit, which is testing the delicate peace in the British province. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL MCERLANEPAUL MCERLANE/AFP/Getty Images
Democratic Unionist party leader and former First Minister Arlene Foster consoles Lord Morrow who lost his seat in the Northern Ireland Stormont election count. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South and Belfast West constituencies. UUP candidate for east Belfast Andy Allen pictured after being successfully elected. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South and Belfast West constituencies. Alliance Party candidate for south Belfast Paula Bradshaw pictured after being successfully elected. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 03 March 2017 NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Omagh Leisure Complex for West Tyrone and Fermanagh & South Tyrone constituencies. Rosemary Barton, UUP speaking after her election result. Picture by Trevor Lucy / Press Eye.
Press Eye © Belfast - Northern Ireland 3 March 2017 NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Valley Leisure Centre in Newtownabbey for East Antrim and South Antrim constituencies. Danny Kinahan MP Photo by Freddie Parkinson / Press Eye ©
Press Eye © Belfast - Northern Ireland 3 March 2017 NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Valley Leisure Centre in Newtownabbey for East Antrim and South Antrim constituencies. Paul Girvan DUP with his wife Mandy (Centre) and Daughter Victoria Photo by Freddie Parkinson / Press Eye ©
Press Eye © Belfast - Northern Ireland 3 March 2017 NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Valley Leisure Centre in Newtownabbey for East Antrim and South Antrim constituencies. Paul Girvan, DUP elected for South Antrim Photo by Freddie Parkinson / Press Eye ©
Mark H. Durkan and his wife Anne celebrate after he is re-elected, on his birthday, as an MLA for Foyle at the count in the Foyle Arena. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com
Sinn Fein candidates in Belfast West MLA's celebrate with Fra McCann, Orlaith Flynn, Pat Sheehan, and Alex Maskey holding up four fingers during their declaration speech at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Returned SDLP MLA Alex Attwood during his declaration speech at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast during the Northern Ireland Election count. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Returned DUP MLA Paula Bradley (centre) speaking with media at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast for the 2017 Northern Ireland Assembly election count. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Sinn Fein Leader in the North Michelle O'Neill (right) speaking at the Seven Towers Leisure Centre in Ballymena. Niall Carson/PA Wire
OMAGH, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 03: Democratic Unionist party leader and former First Minister Arlene Foster makes her acceptance speech as the Northern Ireland Stormont election count takes place on March 3, 2017 in Omagh, Northern Ireland. Voters went to the polls yesterday for the second time in 10 months after the collapse of the power sharing executive government. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
DUP leader Arlene Foster speaking at Omagh count centre during the Northern Ireland Assembly elections. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Omagh Leisure Complex for West Tyrone and Fermanagh & South Tyrone constituencies. Sean Lynch, Sinn Féin pictured at the count. Picture by Trevor Lucy / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 - NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Banbridge Leisure Centre for Newry & Armagh and Upper Bann constituencies. Dolores Kelly of the SDLP celebrates after being elected. Photo by Tony Hendron / Press Eye.
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South and Belfast West constituencies. DUP candidate for north Belfast Nelson McCausland pictured after he is eliminated from the count and fails to be elected. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt pictured at the Park Avenue hotel in Belfast as he announces that he will be stepping down as party leader. Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 - NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Banbridge Leisure Centre for Newry & Armagh and Upper Bann constituencies. The Dup's Jonathan Buckley, left, celebrates being elected with fellow MLA, Carla Lockhart and Upper Bann MP, David Simpson. Photo by Tony Hendron / Press Eye.
Count at Valley Leisure Centre in Newtownabbey for East Antrim and South Antrim constituencies. Mark Cosgrove with John Stewart UUP Photo by Freddie Parkinson / Press Eye ©
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Banbridge Leisure Centre for Newry & Armagh and Upper Bann constituencies. The Old And The New...Outgoing DUP MLA, Sydney Anderson, left, and his replacement, Jonathan Buckley celebrate. Photo by Tony Hendron / Press Eye.
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South and Belfast West constituencies. DUP candidate for south Belfast Emma Little-Pengelly(left) with DUP candidate for north Belfast Nelson McCausland. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South and Belfast West constituencies. Belfast west successful candidates are officially announced. The SDLP's Alex Attwood, who was elected, pictured on the declaration podium after the successful candidates were officially elected. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Omagh Leisure Complex for West Tyrone and Fermanagh & South Tyrone constituencies. Arlene Foster, DUP pictured during the announcement that she has been re-elected. Picture by Trevor Lucy / Press Eye.
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Foyle Arena in Derry for Foyle and East Londonderry constituencies. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood pictured at the count. Phoo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye.
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South and Belfast West constituencies. Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams talks to the media as he arrives at the count centre. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South and Belfast West constituencies. Left to right. SDLP candidate for north Belfast Nichola Mallon and SDLP candidate for west Belfast Alex Attwood. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 - NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Seven Towers Leisure Centre in Ballymena for North Antrim and Mid Ulster constituencies. Photo by John McIlwaine / Press Eye Sinn Fein candidates Linda Dillon and Ian Milne are congratulated by party leader Michelle O'Neill and Francey Molloy after their election to Mid Ulster on the third count
©Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 - NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Foyle Arena in Derry for Foyle and East Londonderry constituencies. Eamonn McCann, People Before Profit Alliance, and partner Goretti Horgan, pictured at the count. Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye.
©Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 - NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Foyle Arena in Derry for Foyle and East Londonderry constituencies. Elisha McCallion and Raymond McCartney, Sinn Féin, pictured at the count. Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye.
Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister during the counting of ballot papers at the Seven Towers Leisure Centre, Ballymena, in Northern Ireland's Assembly election.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 - NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Banbridge Leisure Centre for Newry & Armagh and Upper Bann constituencies. Danny Kennedy (UUP Newry/Armagh) pictured at the count. Photo by Tony Hendron / Press Eye.
Carla Lockhart elected for Upper Bann, pictured with her husband Rodney Condell and mother and father Valerie and kenneth Lockhart. Picture Matt Bohill pacemaker
People before Profits Gerry Carroll at the Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast on Friday for Belfast North, South East and West constituencies Assembly Election Count. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Omagh Leisure Complex for West Tyrone and Fermanagh & South Tyrone constituencies. Michaela Boyle, Sinn Féin and Barry McElduff, Sinn Féin pictured after the election results for West Tyrone. Picture by Trevor Lucy / Press Eye.
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Omagh Leisure Complex for West Tyrone and Fermanagh & South Tyrone constituencies. Thomas Buchanan, DUP pictured after the West Tyrone results were announced. Picture by Trevor Lucy / Press Eye.
Lisburn Leisure Plex - Election Count - 3rd march 2017 Photograph by Declan Roughan Paul Givan elected - (L-R) Edwin Poots, Paul Givan, Uel Mackin and Alan Givan.
Lisburn Leisure Plex - Election Count - 3rd march 2017 Photograph by Declan Roughan Paul Givan elected, arm raised by Uel Mackin.
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South and Belfast West constituencies. Alliance party leader and eat Belfast candidate Naomi Long(centre) celebrates with party colleagues after she tops the poll. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South and Belfast West constituencies. Alliance party leader and eat Belfast candidate Naomi Long(centre) celebrates with party colleagues after she tops the poll. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Michelle O'Neill pictured after topping the poll in Mid Ulster with 10258 votes. Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.
Michelle O'Neill pictured after topping the poll in Mid Ulster with 10258 votes. Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.
Mairtin O'Muilleoir celebrates his win in South Belfast PACEMAKER BELFAST 03/03/2017
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South and Belfast West constituencies. Sinn Féin candidate for west Belfast Órlaithí Flynn(centre) celebrates with party colleagues after she is elected. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Omagh Leisure Complex for West Tyrone and Fermanagh & South Tyrone constituencies. Arlene Foster, DUP arriving at the Omagh Leisure Complex for the results of the count. Picture by Trevor Lucy / Press Eye.
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South and Belfast West constituencies. Sinn Féin candidate for west Belfast Órlaithí Flynn(centre) celebrates with party colleagues after she is elected. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Ballots are counted in Ballymena, County Antrim for North Antrim and Mid-Ulster. Sinn Fein's Michelle ONeill arrives at the count centre with candidates Ian Milne and Linda Dillon. Picture By: Arthur Allison. Pacemaker
Sinn Fein's Michelle ONeill arrives at the count centre with candidates Ian Milne and Linda Dillon. Picture By: Arthur Allison. Pacemaker
Sinn Fein's Michelle ONeill arrives at the count centre with candidates Ian Milne and Linda Dillon and MP Francey Molloy Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.
Ballots are counted in Ballymena, County Antrim for North Antrim and Mid-Ulster. Sinn Fein's Michelle ONeill arrives at the count centre with candidates Ian Milne and Linda Dillon. Picture By: Arthur Allison. Pacemaker
Counting gets underway at the Titanic Exhibition centre. Results for Belfast East, North, South and West are expected in by mid afternoon on Friday. Pic Pacemaker
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 - NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Lagan Valley Leisureplex in Lisburn for Lagan Valley and South Down constituencies. Paul Givan pictured at the count. Photo by Philip Magowan / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 - Counting gets under way at the NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Seven Towers Leisure Centre in Ballymena for North Antrim and Mid Ulster constituencies. Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 0303/2017 Counting gets underway at the Titanic Exhibition centre. Results for Belfast East, North, South and West are expected in by mid afternoon on Friday.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 - NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Lagan Valley Leisureplex in Lisburn for Lagan Valley and South Down constituencies. Brenda Hale pictured at the count. Photo by Philip Magowan / Press Eye.
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Seven Towers Leisure Centre in Ballymena for North Antrim and Mid Ulster constituencies. Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 - NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Seven Towers Leisure Centre in Ballymena for North Antrim and Mid Ulster constituencies. Jim Allister TUV candidate pictured at the count. Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South and Belfast West constituencies. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South and Belfast West constituencies. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Press Eye © Belfast - Northern Ireland 3 March 2017 NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Valley Leisure Centre in Newtownabbey for East Antrim and South Antrim constituencies. Photo by Freddie Parkinson / Press Eye ©
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 - NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Aurora Leisure Complex in Bangor for Strangford and North Down constituencies. Steven Agnew (second right) leader of the Green Party watching the verification of the North Down vote. Photo by Brian Little / Press Eye.
Counting underway in the Seven Towers Leisure Centre for the North Antrim and Mid Ulster seats in the Northern Ireland assembly election on March 3, 2017 in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Assembly Election 2017 Count at Aurora Leisure Complex in Bangor for Strangford and North Down constituencies.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 - NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Aurora Leisure Complex in Bangor for Strangford and North Down constituencies. Verification of the Strangford and North Down vote starts. Photo by Brian Little / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 - NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Banbridge Leisure Centre for Newry & Armagh and Upper Bann constituencies. DUP Councillor, Darryn Causby and SDLP hopeful Dolores Kelly pictured at the count. Photo by Tony Hendron / Press Eye.
BALLYMENA, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 03: Counting gets underway in the Seven Towers Leisure Centre for the North Antrim and Mid Ulster seats in the Northern Ireland assembly election on March 3, 2017 in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. A snap election was called following the resignation of the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness, with indications showing that voter turnout was considerably higher than in May last year. The first declarations are expected around lunchtime today. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Counting continues at the Seven Towers Leisure Centre, Ballymena, in Northern Ireland's Assembly election. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 3, 2017. This is the second contest in less than a year and early indications are that turnout has been higher than expected. See PA story ULSTER Election. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South and Belfast West constituencies.The boxes are opened for the count. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South and Belfast West constituencies. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 - NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Aurora Leisure Complex in Bangor for Strangford and North Down constituencies. Steven Agnew (second right) leader of the Green Party watching the verification of the North Down vote. Photo by Brian Little / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 - NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Lagan Valley Leisureplex in Lisburn for Lagan Valley and South Down constituencies. Sammy Morrison pictured at the count. Photo by Philip Magowan / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3 March 2017 - NI Assembly Election 2017 Count at Lagan Valley Leisureplex in Lisburn for Lagan Valley and South Down constituencies. Brenda Hale and Paul Rankin pictured at the count. Photo by Philip Magowan / Press Eye.
Counting begins at the Seven Towers Leisure Centre, Ballymena, in Northern Ireland's Assembly election. Friday March 3, 2017.
Counting begins at the Seven Towers Leisure Centre, Ballymena, in Northern Ireland's Assembly election. Friday March 3, 2017.

By Christopher Woodhouse and Ali Gordon

Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill are ready to start talks in a bid to do a deal to restore the Stormont power sharing Executive.

Mrs Foster is determined to remain as party chief and lead her party into negotiations.

But last night DUP MP Gavin Robinson raised the possibility that she might step aside as the party’s First Minister designate until the RHI inquiry has concluded.

He stressed it would be for Arlene Foster alone to decide but said his party was keen to make devolved government work.

“As a party that wants to see devolved government in Northern Ireland succeed we are not going to present impediments to progress,” the East Belfast MP told Stephen Nolan on Radio 5 Live. “But we are not going to have another party determine who is going to lead our party.”

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams yesterday dismissed the notion that Arlene Foster standing aside as DUP leader was a pre-condition to his party entering talks.

But he confirmed that Sinn Fein would not accept Mrs Foster as First Minister until the inquiry into the Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) shambles had concluded.

Mr Adams stressed “this is not a pre-condition to negotiations starting on Monday if the DUP are up for it.”

Sinn Fein’s northern chief Michelle O’Neill and Mrs Foster have signalled their intentions to thrash out an agreement following Thursday’s historic election that put Sinn Fein within a whisker of overtaking the DUP as Northern Ireland’s largest party in the Assembly.

Writing exclusively for Sunday Life Mrs Foster — who has faced criticism of her leadership style — brushed off speculation that she should resign by outlining her commitment to working with other parties to form a lasting Executive when crunch talks begin tomorrow.

<< Arlene Foster: I am ready to work with other parties to get the Executive up and running again>>

Alliance are also in upbeat mood following its good showing and yesterday party leader Naomi Long said the election put the prospect of same sex marriage in Northern Ireland “within reach”.

“With Petition of Concern no longer in DUP’s hands (we) have opportunity for change. Equal Marriage within reach. Who says voting doesn’t matter?” she posted.

Opponents have accused Mrs Foster and her party of arrogance over the RHI debacle, gay marriage rights and the Irish language in particular.

But while remaining defiant over her position, the DUP leader appeared to signal a slight change of tone following the chastening election result which saw her party lose 10 seats including some of its biggest names.

She said: “I am listening not just to those who voted for the DUP but to those who cast their votes for other parties. We must all respect each other’s mandates and work together for the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland.

“When the talks begin on Monday I will seek to work with other parties to create the circumstances where we can not just get the Executive up and running again, but do so in a way in which it will endure.”

Her ‘can do’ attitude was mirrored at a press conference in west Belfast yesterday by jubilant Sinn Fein leaders who were celebrating an election triumph which saw them closing the gap on the DUP to just one seat.

Party President Gerry Adams said: “We want to engage as quickly as possible in a process to put the political institutions in place once again.”

Sinn Fein’s Assembly leader Michelle O’Neill added: “We have a period of three weeks in front of us and whilst the task isn’t easy I think that it’s achievable if people come at it with the right attitude.”

Both the DUP and Sinn Fein have just three weeks to hammer out an agreement to restore the power-sharing Executive.

If a deal has not been reached by then, Secretary of State James Brokenshire, who republicans are adamant must not chair the talks, has the power to call fresh elections.

However, the prospect of going to the polls for a third time in a year seems to be the last thing on the DUP and Sinn Fein’s minds.

Triumphant

 The mood at Sinn Fein’s offices on the Falls Road was triumphant, with Mr Adams describing the election as a “watershed” and claiming “the notion of a permanent or perpetual unionist majority has been demolished”.

Sinn Fein came within just over 1,000 votes of being returned as the largest party in Thursday’s poll. The DUP suffered a series of losses with former minister Nelson McCausland and party chairman Lord Morrow among the casualties.

Mike Nesbitt resigned as leader of the Ulster Unionist party after its disappointing performance which saw them lose high profile figures including  Danny Kennedy in Newry and Armagh.

Mr Kennedy told Sunday Life the party would reflect on the result as it prepares to elect a new leader.

“I think it’s important we take our time to do that but also to give ourselves enough space to have the right discussions,” he said.

Mr Kennedy also dismissed any possibility of a split, saying the party remains united.

“This is a setback, a considerable setback, we don’t underestimate it but we will take the necessary time to review things,” he said.

For the first time in Northern Ireland’s history, unionists no longer have an overall majority in Stormont.

The SDLP and Alliance had a good result retaining their seat totals. Naomi Long’s Alliance in particular had a good election with its vote share rising.

Following the loss of 10 of their MLAs, the DUP no longer has the power to trigger the controversial petition of concern that has prevented same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

But while many people have been celebrating a possible victory for marriage equality, unionist MLAs from other parties have said they would still oppose same sex marriage if it came to a vote.

“I am against gay marriage and that is still the case,” East Antrim UUP MLA Roy Beggs told Sunday Life.

“Nobody is sure what rules may apply for a petition of concern or if there will even be an Assembly, nobody knows. Where do we go from here?

“I wouldn’t be honouring the people who voted for me if I voted any differently because I have spoken openly in the past about my views on the matter.”

It is expected that North Antrim MLA Jim Allister will also sign any petition of concern which seeks to block equal marriage.

Mr Allister has previously said:  “TUV is a party committed to traditional family values and will continue to resist attempts by the homosexual lobby to introduce the oxymoron which is same sex marriage to Northern Ireland.”

A valid  petition of concern requires the signature of 30 MLAs.

In the previous mandate the DUP, with 38 seats, was the only party that could table one on its own. In 2015, 94 MLAs voted on equal marriage, of which 43 were in favour.

Despite the DUP’s poor result, Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said Mrs Foster’s position as leader was secure.

He said yesterday: “I am not aware of any election in the past where the leader of the largest party resigns because they have won the election.

“Arlene is leading the largest party and we need to get on with the job of forming a government that works for us all.”

Setback

There was however a setback for Sinn Fein last night in Dublin, where both the main political parties ruled out any  coalition with them in the wake of their Assembly gains.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and three of the contenders in the Fine Gael leadership race yesterday insisted they would not form a government with Adams’s party in the Dail.

Mr Martin said: “Sinn Fein has not changed, so government with Sinn Fein will not be considered.”

>>Results centre - select a constituency - every result as it happened -

North Antrim - East Antrim - South Antrim - North Belfast - East Belfast - South Belfast - West Belfast - Strangford - South Down - Lagan Valley - Upper Bann - Newry and Armagh - Fermanagh & South Tyrone - West Tyrone - Mid Ulster - East Londonderry - Foyle - North Down

Belfast Telegraph Digital

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph