Emotional Foster appeals for MLAs to be ‘good neighbours’
Northern Ireland will only move forward when the Province’s differing identities are respected by all, resigning first minister Arlene Foster has said.
Making her resignation speech in the Assembly chamber, the ousted DUP leader said her time as first minister may have ended “abruptly” but she vowed to pursue “unfinished business” in championing Northern Ireland in other ways.
Mrs Foster, who acknowledged she had not always made the right calls, became emotional as she closed her speech with an appeal for MLAs to act as “good neighbours”.
Assembly colleagues applauded as Mrs Foster ended her speech with the line “over and out”.
She addressed the row over the Irish language that threatens to destabilise the powersharing administration in the wake of her resignation.
“Let us realise in every corner of this House, that people live here who have an Irish identity, a British identity, some have a British and Irish identity, some are British and Northern Irish and there are new emerging identities, but for all of us this place is called home,” Mrs Foster told MLAs.
“We can poke each other in the eye and have a competition of ‘my identity is better than yours’ but it is only by respecting each other’s identity that we will move forward.
“The beauty of the Union is that we can all have our identities and live here side by side.”
Mrs Foster stressed that the cultural aspects of the New Decade New Approach agreement also included protections for the Ulster Scots/British tradition.
She said it was unhelpful to view it solely as legislation affecting the Irish language tradition.
“Too often a demand to advance Irish identity in the language of equality saw simultaneous calls to reduce or denigrate other forms of expression,” she said.
“This was always a destabilising approach in a society seeking healing, and risked simply creating a new dispossessed community. This cycle needed to be broken.”
Mrs Foster said relations between the UK and Ireland and the UK and EU were “out of balance” as a result of the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol.
“If Brussels continues to think the protocol is enough, they are in denial. Imbalance and instability in the context of Northern Ireland is a truly dangerous cocktail.
“Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and needs to be treated as such.”