Arlene Foster ‘strategically short-sighted’ on Good Friday Agreement comments: Robin Swann

DUP leader Arlene Foster at the Conservative Party conference at the International Convention Centre, Birmingham
DUP leader Arlene Foster at the Conservative Party conference at the International Convention Centre, Birmingham

The UUP has rounded on both the leaderships of the DUP and Sinn Fein in the wake of comments from Arlene Foster about the Belfast Agreement.

It came after the DUP leader gave an interview to the Daily Telegraph ahead of her appearance at a fringe event at the Tory party conference.

She used her appearance to stress her and her party’s absolute commitment to the Union, saying that she is “not bluffing” when it comes to blocking any efforts to separate Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

In the newspaper interview which preceded her appearance, she was quoted as saying: “It has been deeply frustrating to hear people who voted Remain and in Europe talk about Northern Ireland as though we can’t touch the Belfast Agreement. Things evolve, even in the EU context.

“There has been a lot of misinterpretation, holding it up as a sacrosanct piece of legislation.”

UUP leader Robin Swann MLA said Mrs Foster’s comments were “strategically short-sighted”.

“The DUP may have been happy to corrupt the 1998 agreement for their owns ends at St Andrews, but I cannot believe the DUP leader has been so careless as to throw it open in such a haphazard way which is of no benefit to unionism,” he said.

Mr Swann said the 1998 deal is “the best settlement for unionists and should be sacrosanct”.

He went on to add: “It is abject hypocrisy for Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Fein to criticise the comments. They were complicit in destroying the partnership model of government established by the Belfast Agreement.”

This is a reference to comments from Sinn Fein president Ms McDonald, when she told the Dail Mrs Foster’s remarks on the 1998 agreement were “dangerous and reprehensible” .

“They reveal a reckless disregard for the peace process, for prosperity and for progress,” said the republican.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, also speaking in the Dail, said: “We see our role as the Irish government as the co-defenders of that agreement. It is not a piece of British legislation, it is an international agreement between the British and Irish governments, as well as a multi-party agreement among the various parties.

“While it may be factually correct to say that the Good Friday Agreement, just like any international treaty, could be changed, it can only be changed with the agreement of British and Irish governments and can only be changed with the consent of the people of Northern Ireland and indeed across cross-community consent.”

Naomi Long, Alliance leader, said that Mrs Foster should “clarify” her comments.