Arlene Foster tells Edwin Poots to deliver an Irish language act as she attacks him for making the DUP ‘nasty’

Arlene Foster has launched a fresh attack on Edwin Poots for taking the DUP in a “nasty” direction and told her successor that he must implement an Irish language act.

Monday, 31st May 2021, 7:01 am
Updated Monday, 31st May 2021, 9:40 am

The former DUP leader, who has threatened to resign as First Minister tomorrow if Edwin Poots reshuffles the party’s ministerial team, also said that the new DUP leader had never dissented from the party’s strategy on the Irish Sea border.

In a blunt interview with the Financial Times, Mrs Foster set out multiple criticisms of Mr Poots and said that she was leaving the party because of where she thought Mr Poots – who she made a minister last year – would take the DUP.

Mrs Foster initially told the interviewer, Henry Mance: “I’m quite philosophical about where I am at the moment. I wish it had happened differently, but it has happened.”

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Edwin Poots travelled to London to be interviewed by Andrew Marr – but didn’t say much that was new

However, he said that over the course of their lunch her stance changed and she described her removal from office as “pretty poor”, “very brutal”, “just awful”, and added: “People are [saying], what a way to end your career.”

When asked why she was walking away from the DUP, Mrs Foster said: “Because I don’t agree with the direction of travel under Edwin’s leadership.

“I think we are regressing and becoming more narrow. It’s quite nasty, frankly.”

Mrs Foster added: “If the union is to succeed, we need to be a bigger tent... The plea I would make to the party is that, if they want to secure the union, then they have to have a wide vision for the union.”

However, despite Mrs Foster now claiming that she is leaving the DUP because of Mr Poots’s leadership, it had been reported by the BBC two days after her resignation that Mrs Foster had told her constituency association that she would be leaving the party. At that point, it was not clear that Mr Poots would become leader.

Mrs Foster also said that devolution could collapse if the DUP reneges on Irish language act and associated package in the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) deal which it agreed with Sinn Féin last January.

She said: “That was the basis of coming back into devolution [in 2020], so therefore it has to be delivered on... I think there will be consequences if he [backs out].”

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA – who did not rule out going to the House of Lords if that is offered to her by the government – also said that Mr Poots had not attempted to argue against the party’s strategy on the Irish Sea border.

She said: “We were all in exactly the same position. This suggestion that there were some people in the party who are softer than others is just not the case… [Mr Poots] didn’t make any suggestion that I rejected, definitely not.”

A DUP spokesman responded: “Mr Poots has indicated that he wants to see NDNA delivered in all its parts.”

The new DUP leader yesterday travelled to London to appear on the Andrew Marr Show – but said little new in the interview. Mr Poots again denounced the Northern Ireland Protocol and accused the EU of using Northern Ireland as its “plaything”.

He said: “We have violence on our streets in Northern Ireland, which hasn’t been the case for years, and that’s on the back of this Protocol”. He also said while the European Commission over the years “put their heart and soul into winning peace in Northern Ireland”, they now “don’t seem to care for the peace process … that really needs to change, that attitude needs to change”.

“This is the European Union seeking to punish the United Kingdom. As a consequence, Northern Ireland is being used as a plaything for the European Union,” he said.

“I can assure you Northern Ireland should be nobody’s plaything, we are citizens of the United Kingdom, we were citizens of the European Union and we deserve to be treated with the same respect as everyone else.”

New UUP leader Doug Beattie urged the DUP and Sinn Fein to keep the “show on the road” at Stormont. He told RTE: “There’s an onus on the DUP – and there is an onus on Sinn Fein also – to be generous...it’s time politicians just held their ground, gave a little bit to each other, were a little bit more gracious and just make sure that we can provide for the people of Northern Ireland.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said: “The folly of a head over heels commitment to the absurd system of mandatory coalition, which Edwin Poots has long embraced, means he is in the hapless position of Sinn Fein being able to extract whatever price they choose to keep Stormont going.

“Sinn Fein cares nothing for Stormont, good government or making Northern Ireland work, so, when Mr Poots makes retention of this failed system of government his overriding priority – even above destroying the Union-dismantling Protocol – then, it is an invitation to Connolly House to extract even more concessions....What a pitiful place to which the DUP and their divisions has brought us.”

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