Arlene Foster accused of ‘narrowness’ over 1916 events

Incoming First Minister urged to reconsider her decision not to attend Easter Rising events in Dublin

 New First Minister Arlene Foster: “Easter 1916 was a very violent attack on the state.” Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

New First Minister Arlene Foster: “Easter 1916 was a very violent attack on the state.” Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

 

The DUP leader Arlene Foster, who is to be elected First Minister today, has been accused of “narrowness” over her refusal to attend any of the Easter Rising commemorations in the Republic.

Ms Foster, who takes over as First Minister of Northern Ireland from Peter Robinson this afternoon, repeated yesterday that she would not be travelling to Dublin to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising.

Ms Foster said that as a democrat it would not be right for her to take part in the commemorations. “Easter 1916 was a very violent attack on the state. And it wasn’t just an attack on the state. It was an attack against democracy at that time,” she said in a BBC interview yesterday.

“Anyone that knows me knows that I believe in democracy and I believe in the democratic will, and therefore I just do not believe that it would be right for me to go and to commemorate such an occasion, “ she said.

“When you look at the history of commemorations of Easter 1916 it is only relatively recently that the government of the Republic of Ireland have commemorated that occasion because actually it gave succour to violent republicanism here in Northern Ireland over many years,” said Ms Foster.

“It would be wrong for me as the leader of Northern Ireland to give any succour to those sorts of people.

“People are nuanced enough to know that I am very open and will represent democratic nationalists and democratic unionists in Northern Ireland,” she added.

Choice

Impartial Reporter

Sinn Féin and the SDLP were critical of her position.

“History always offers a choice; it can make us rigid or make us open. Arlene Foster’s comments demonstrate a narrowness that we desperately need to break free from,” said SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

“The commemorations ahead will pose questions for us all.

“None of us who hold political responsibility should hide or avoid those questions. We should all of us, unionist and nationalist, participate fully.”

Mr Eastwood said 1912- 1922 was a period of rebellion and transformation across Ireland.

Her heroes

Edward Carson

“I do not say this to score political points but merely as a reminder that the remembrance of history cannot be partial. If we are to remember, we must remember it all.

“The Rising of 1916 is part of her history, just as the Battle of the Somme is part of mine. I hope the incoming First Minister reconsiders her opinion and shows a broadness of mind required by her political office and required by the proper remembrance of history,” said Mr Eastwood.

Sinn Féin MLA Chris Hazzard said the commemorations of the Rising and the Battle of the Somme should be inclusive and respectful. This would be a sign of “genuine political maturity”.

“Therefore it is disappointing that Arlene Foster has said she does not want to be associated with any events commemorating the Rising.

Political spectrum

Ms Foster in her BBC interview said last year had been “turbulent” for Northern Ireland.

“But we dealt with it by talking to each other, negotiating and planning for the future.”

She said one of her main priorities would be the economy and preparing for the devolution of corporation tax-setting powers to the Northern Executive.

At 45 she will be the youngest unionist leader of Northern Ireland in its 95-year history albeit the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister which she shares with Martin McGuinness is a joint office.