‘Humbled’ Arlene Foster wants pro-Union parties to unite

Arlene Foster speaking at a press conference at Stormont on Monday
Arlene Foster speaking at a press conference at Stormont on Monday

DUP leader Arlene Foster has urged pro-Union parties to come together in the wake of last week’s disastrous election result for unionism.

Mrs Foster said the shock result – which saw her party’s advantage over Sinn Fein at Stormont reduced to just one seat – must serve as a “wake-up call for unionism”.

The former first minister said that if a formal agreement between the main unionist parties could not be reached, then there should be pacts in place where unionists would transfer to each other.

Despite losing 10 MLAs and finishing a mere 1,200 votes ahead of Sinn Fein, Mrs Foster sought to put a somewhat positive spin on Thursday’s election result.

She highlighted that the DUP had secured more votes than any party has won in an Assembly election since the Good Friday Agreement.

However, she acknowledged that while her party’s total vote of 225,413 was “impressive”, she also warned it “will not be enough” to win the next election.

And she pinned some of the blame for the crisis facing unionism on outgoing UUP leader Mike Nesbitt.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph today, Mrs Foster added: “The call from Mike Nesbitt to transfer to the SDLP rather than to other unionists had a material outcome and was decisive in a number of constituencies such as Lagan Valley.

“Those people who were prepared to urge unionists to transfer to nationalists before unionists must accept that the price of doing so is to give a boost to nationalism.”

The DUP leader said there was now a “responsibility on all unionists moving forward”.

“We must not only hold the vote that we already have, we also need to expand on the next generation of voters,” she added.

“That is both in terms of first preference votes and also in terms of our capacity to win transfers.

“Ideally, I would like to see a renewed attempt to create unionist unity where the parties would come together.

“Failing that, we need to agree transfer pacts where unionists transfer down the ballot paper to each other.”

Mrs Foster stood alongside her deputy leader Nigel Dodds at Stormont on Monday to dismiss what DUP sources have been telling journalists about disquiet within the party about the election result, claiming there was “no problem at all”.

But on Monday night, Ian Paisley spoke candidly about the situation facing the party as it enters major talks with Sinn Fein.

In an interview with Sky News, the North Antrim MP said there was a need for “humble pie being served up and being eaten”.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Foster said she had been “humbled” by the support shown for her in last week’s election.

She added: “I do not take it for granted and in the coming weeks and months I will do all that I can to repay the faith that has been shown in me.”