Arlene Foster regrets Sinn Féin ‘crocodiles’ comment
DUP leader says use of term allowed party to demonise her in ‘bruising’ election campaign
DUP leader Arlene Foster (right) and a Sinn Féin supporter dressed as a crocodile. Ms Foster has said she regrets using the term crocodiles to describe Sinn Féin. Photographs: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty and Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster has said she regrets using the term crocodiles to describe Sinn Féin during the Northern Ireland Assembly election campaign as it allowed the party to demonise her.
In the lead up to last week’s vote, the former first minister said “if you feed a crocodile it will keep coming back and looking for more” in relation to Sinn Féin’s demand for an Irish Language Act.
The comment infuriated republicans who ultimately turned out in massive numbers in the election, which for the first time saw unionist parties fail to win a majority of seats in Stormont.
Speaking to the Fermanagh-based newspaper The Impartial Reporter, Ms Foster said: “Sinn Féin mounted a campaign of demonisation against me and 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.
“The crocodile comment was in relation to Sinn Féin 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...”
Ms Foster said she was not “anti-Catholic” and that it was nonsense to suggest she had not worked “through all my years as MLA for everybody regardless of class or creed”.
After the election count, Ms Foster talked about the need for “civility”, a point which Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew picked up on and said the concept should be extended to the Irish language and LGBT communities.
In response, Ms Foster said: “After what had been a pretty bruising election I wanted to try to sound a note of optimism in terms of building for the future and trying to put what had happened behind all of us.
“Unfortunately Sinn Féin were not interested in that sort of language. For those of us who live in the west [of the Bann], we are used to that sort of triumphalism from Sinn Féin. When people lecture about respect, integrity and equality they need to reflect that that has to be for everybody and not just for them. There needs to be mutual respect for those of us from a British/Orange culture, and one that is not going away,” she said.
Ms Foster played down reports of a revolt in the DUP. Her party colleague Ian Paisley Jnr this week said the party leader had a strong support base but also “has to answer some very tough questions”.
Ms Foster said the comment “doesn’t entirely surprise me” and that Mr Paisely had his own views but had “indicated that he supports me as leader”.
As negotiations on restoring powersharing continue at Stormont this week there are many issues now facing Ms Foster, including whether or not she will seek the first minister’s position again.
Sinn Féin has demanded that she stay out of the Northern Executive until the public inquiry into the costly botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme is resolved.
Asked again if she will return as first minister, Ms Foster said: “As I have 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.
“We certainly will not be dictated to by Sinn Féin, it is a matter for us to decide...If we allow them to dictate who our nominees should be then we should have a reciprocal role in relation to their nominees.”