Arlene Foster mentions SF 32 times as she issues DUP manifesto with warning
Arlene Foster has launched the DUP's manifesto with a barrage of warnings about what she said was the possibility of Sinn Fein overtaking the DUP to become Stormont's biggest party.
At present there is a ten-seat gap between the two Executive parties and for them to switch places would require either a total collapse in the DUP’s vote or a stunning increase in support for Sinn Fein.
There was no mention of the RHI scandal during Mrs Foster’s speech this morning.
After her address, in what is highly unusual for a party manifesto launch, Mrs Foster declined to take any questions from the media, having earlier said that she was suffering from the cold.
Yesterday’s manifesto was actually a five-page addendum to the DUP’s much larger manifesto which it launched last year ahead of the last Assembly election. The party argued that most of the stances outlined in that document remained relevant and it believes that this election is unnecessary.
Following her repeated references to “Gerry Adams’ Sinn Fein” during last week’s UTV leaders’ debate, Mrs Foster’s speech yesterday was again littered with warnings about Sinn Fein.
There were 32 mentions of Sinn Fein – more than double the 14 times she referenced her own party, the DUP.
There were a further 12 mentions of Gerry Adams and five mentions of republicans in the 20-minute speech.
Addressing an audience of DUP candidates, party members and journalists in the Stormont Hotel, Mrs Foster said there was “the very real prospect of Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein exploiting the present situation to allow Sinn Fein to emerge for the first time ever in an Assembly election as Northern Ireland’s largest political party”.
She said that if Sinn Fein was to triumph at the polls it would be used by Sinn Fein to would use an election victory “as a justification for a border poll which would be divisive and destabilising”.
And Mrs Foster said that if Sinn Fein emerges on top it would “reward those who caused the crisis and make devolution permanently unstable”, adding: “Make no mistake – it is not the DUP, but the British Government that Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein want to be dealing with.”
And, continuing the bleak picture of the post-election landscape if the DUP loses the election, Mrs Foster said it would “give Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein a hugely significant world-wide propaganda boost just months after nationalisms worst election since 1993 and would undermine the unionist confidence which is being rebuilt after so many years in decline.”
And, rounding on UUP leader Mike Nesbitt over his statement that he will transfer to an SDLP candidate ahead of other unionists, Mrs Foster highlighted that neither the UUP nor the SDLP were running sufficient candidates to be able to form an Executive after March 2.
She said: “Colum Eastwood will do well if the SDLP return with ten seats at the election – and they are not even fielding enough candidates to compete with Sinn Fein.
“Equally, even if Mike Nesbitt won every seat in which his party has even the remotest of chances, they cannot win more seats than Sinn Fein.”
Mrs Foster went on to say that if the DUP loses its top position then “Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein would use an election victory for vindication of their position that the border between the UK and the EU should be the Irish Sea and not the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland”.
The DUP leader said that in any post-election negotiations the DUP’s demands “will be proportionate to those of Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein... if Sinn Fein are putting more fundamental changes on the agenda we will be happy to table our own long list of demands”.
And, to applause from the DUP candidates, she also said: “We will not permit the rewriting of the past or the persecution of the security forces. In this new political era, we will defend those who defended us through the dark days of the Troubles.”
But, beneath the myriad warnings about Sinn Fein, there were also olive branches tot he only party with which the DUP can hope to form an administration in a fortnight’s time.
Mrs Foster said that “As recently as last November, Sinn Fein accepted our good faith efforts and I hope once the election is out of the way that they will do so again”.
And Mrs Foster admitted that “it is clear there is a lack of confidence around the operation of devolution in Northern Ireland”, going on to say that the DUP was prepared to “respond positively to any proposals to increase transparency, accountability and to help the institutions function more effectively”.