DUP standing by leader Arlene Foster despite Sinn Féin gains

Gerry Adams insists DUP leader step aside pending ‘cash for ash’ inquiry outcome

Senior DUP politicians are standing by their leader Arlene Foster despite Sinn Féin narrowing the gap between the two parties to just one seat in the latest Northern Ireland Assembly election.

As MLAs begin gathering at Stormont today following Thursday's poll, politicians such as former economy minister Simon Hamilton and Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson expressed support for Ms Foster.

The DUP’s seat tally dropped from 38 to 28, while Sinn Féin won 27.

“Arlene is leading the largest party and we need to get on with the job of forming a government that works for us all,” Mr Donaldson said.

The election result means that, for the first time, unionists no longer enjoy a majority in the Assembly. Unionists hold 40 seats, while Sinn Féin and the SDLP, which returned with 12 seats, have a combined 39 seats in the new 90-seat Assembly.

UUP leader

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt, who resigned on Friday after his party saw its representation fall from 16 to 10 seats, is to stay on in the role until a replacement is found, which is likely to be next month. Mr Nesbitt had made a pitch for new centre-ground politics by urging transfers to the SDLP.

It is unclear who might succeed him but potential candidates include North Antrim MLA Robin Swann, Roy Beggs in East Antrim, Steve Aiken in South Antrim and Doug Beattie in Upper Bann.

Alliance held its eight seats and saw its share of the vote increase by more than two percentage points to just over 9 per cent. The Green Party held its two seats, with its MLA Clare Bailey taking the very last seat in the early hours of Saturday morning. People Before Profit returned with one seat after its leader, Eamonn McCann, lost out in Foyle. Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister was returned in North Antrim and independent unionist and former justice minister Claire Sugden elected in East Derry.

The DUP won 225,413 first preferences to Sinn Féin’s 224,245 – a result that inevitably has raised questions about Ms Foster’s leadership.

The Irish and British governments and the parties are engaging in talks to try to ensure the return of Stormont within three weeks, or not too long thereafter.

Cash for ash

Sinn Féin is holding to its demand that Ms Foster step aside pending the outcome of the public inquiry into the “cash for ash” debacle which could potentially result in an overspend of up to £490 million up to 2036. Ms Foster was once the minister responsible for the scheme.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams on Saturday referred to how former DUP leader Peter Robinson twice stood aside as first minister at times of political crisis.

“Let’s not be misrepresenting the absoluteness of our position. What was good enough for Peter Robinson is good enough for Arlene Foster,” Mr Adams told reporters during a visit to the Falls Road.

Ms Foster has indicated she has no intention of resigning. In an article in yesterday's Sunday Life she wrote; "When the talks begin on Monday I will seek to work with other parties to create the circumstances where we can not just get the Executive up and running again, but do so in a which in which it will endure."

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times

READ MORE