Following a “bruising election” DUP leader Arlene Foster has said she regrets making comments which allowed her to be demonised by Sinn Fein.
In an exclusive interview with her local paper in Fermanagh, The Impartial Reporter, Mrs Foster would not state if she will seek the first minister’s post again and said she was not surprised by Ian Paisley Junior’s comments about her leadership.
During the interview the DUP leader said by comparing Sinn Fein to crocodiles in the build up to the election when commenting on the party’s desire for an Irish Language Act, she opened the door for the party to “mount a campaign of demonisation against her”.
Mrs Foster told the Impartial Reporter: “I regret (the comment) in so far as it allowed Sinn Fein to use it against me and to use it to demonise me.
“To a certain extent succeeded in that. I just have to prove to people that I am the same Arlene Foster as I have always been.”
In seeking to clarify the crocodile soundbite she said: “The crocodile comment was in relation to Sinn Fein and not in relation to the Irish Language Act.
“I have always made it clear that if people want to converse or learn the Irish language then they should be allowed to do so and should be able to do so and indeed we have spent millions of pounds through the Executive. We spent £171 million on Irish language including Irish language education so it’s entirely wrong to say we don’t support the Irish language.”
While she admitted to some regret over the crocodile comment, Mrs Foster said she did not regret walking out of the election count centre as Sean Lynch took to the stage after being elected.
She said: “I don’t think anyone should be surprised that I really didn’t want to hear want he wanted to say.”
Last year Mr Lynch paid tribute to Seamus McElwaine, the man whom she believes tried to murder her father.
This week Ian Paisley Junior said Mrs Foster had “some very tough questions” to answer from everyone at the DUP.
“Ian will be as Ian always is,” she said.
“It doesn’t entirely surprise me. He has indicated that he supports me as leader, he’ll always have his own individual views and that’s the way he always behaves.”
Asked if she will return as first minister or give up the role, she said: “I remain the leader of unionism and that will remain the case. Who we nominate is a matter for me and my team at Stormont.”