Arlene Foster urges unionists to return her as First Minister
DUP warn shredding of unionist vote could hand victory to Sinn Féin in Assembly election
Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster launching her party’s manifesto for the Northen Ireland Assembly election at the Spectrum Centre, Belfast on Monday. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire.
The launch of the party’s election manifesto on Monday was dominated by the question as to whether the DUP or Sinn Féin would be the majority party after the election and in position to nominate a first minister.
Issues such as jobs, health and education will feature in the election campaign but it was clear at the launch that Ms Foster and her strategists believe one of their best chances of galvanising unionist support is by raising the possibility of Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness becoming first minister.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the post of first minister was “the public face of Northern Ireland” which “tells the world who we are and what values we hold”. It was “a two-horse race” between Ms Foster and Mr McGuinness, he said.
“There is no point in hiding away from the fact that the person who is going to be first minister after this election is either me or Martin McGuinness,” she said, adding that she wanted the campaign to be positive.
Mr Dodds said that in the 18 six-seater constituencies where the DUP is standing 44 candidates “a few votes here and there” could decide final outcomes.
Sinn Féin outpolled the DUP in the 2014 local and European elections but Mr Dodds said his party had regained “top spot” in last year’s Westminster elections but by fewer than 10,000 votes.
“So there is no guarantee of a DUP victory,” Mr Dodds added.
“A Sinn Féin victory has happened before in a province-wide election when the unionist vote was split and shredded. And make no mistake, it could happen again unless we are able to take our message to every person and every part of Northern Ireland.”
Ms Foster said the DUP was putting forward a “five-point plan” to build a stronger Northern Ireland. It would concentrate on improving the health service with an additional £1 billion in spending over the next five years; create 50,000 new jobs during the same period; protect family budgets; raise educational standards; and provide an extra £1 billion for infrastructural projects such as new hospitals, roads and schools.
Referring to the Troubles, Ms Foster said: “I will never support the rewriting of our past. Those who terrorised our land and perpetrated the most evil of acts must not have the fear of justice lifted from them.”
The DUP manifesto also proposes that all political donations of more than £7,500 should be made public. In a proposal which would have an impact on Sinn Féin, it also calls for all Northern parties to be barred from accepting donations from outside the United Kingdom.
DUP MANIFESTO MAIN POINTS
* 50,000 new jobs to be created in 5 years.
* Extra £1 billion for health.
* Extra £1 billion for infrastructural projects.
* 8,000 social homes to be built.
* Banning of political donations from outside UK.
* All PSNI officers to wear body cameras.
* Free bus passes for carers.
* A bank holiday to mark the centenary of the founding of Northern Ireland on May 5th 2021.
* People In Northern Ireland who reach 100 in 2021 to each receive £1,000.
* All babies born in 2021 to receive Finnish-style “Baby Box” of baby clothing, bedclothes, hygiene products and other baby essentials.