Arlene Foster tells unionists not to be complacent ahead of poll

DUP leader casts Northern election as contest with Sinn Féin for office of First Minister

DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “The role of First Minister has huge symbolic significance at home and abroad.” File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “The role of First Minister has huge symbolic significance at home and abroad.” File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Northern Ireland politicians have made their last pitch to voters who go to the polls on Thursday to elect 108 Assembly members in 18 six-seater constituencies.

The big contest is to determine whether the DUP, which had 38 MLAs in the outgoing Assembly, can maintain its ascendancy over Sinn Féin, which had 29 MLAs.

DUP leader Arlene Foster warned unionists against complacency and repeated that being the largest party and therefore entitled to the First Minister post was important.

“The role of First Minister has huge symbolic significance at home and abroad,” said Ms Foster. “Of course in our system of government we need to work with other parties to get things done, but it is essential that we can negotiate with them from a position of strength.”

“The largest party will also get the first choice of government departments and most seats around the Executive table,” she added.

‘Stronger and safer’

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in his call for support for Sinn Féin made no mention of the First Minister issue or any possibility of his party gaining more seats than the DUP. Instead, he focused on Sinn Féin as an all-Ireland party and referred to how 1916 was an important year for republicans. He said Sinn Féin now had 23 TDs and seven Senators in the Oireachtas.

The SDLP with 14 seats in the outgoing Assembly, the Ulster Unionist Party with 13 and Alliance with eight are hoping to maintain their current standing or gain seats.

Controversy

Sir Declan Morgan

The request was never put through, however, because Ms Foster had not signed off on the chief justice’s request. All such matters must be approved by both the First and Deputy First Ministers. Sinn Féin supported the request.

Sir Declan said he was “disappointed” at the delay.

“The incoming Executive needs to agree a way forward on these cases, and indeed all of the outstanding issues in relation to dealing with the legacy of the past, as a matter of urgency,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the funding request would be reconsidered after the election. “It is essential that any proposals are fully costed and meet the needs of everyone affected,” he said.