Foster calls on unionists to back DUP to stop Sinn Féin

DUP leader sets out at launch of manifesto 10 principles to govern post-election talks

DUP leader Arlene Foster at the launch of the party’s manifesto in a Belfast hotel on Monday. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

DUP leader Arlene Foster at the launch of the party’s manifesto in a Belfast hotel on Monday. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

 

Recent polling indicates that the Northern Assembly election will be “neck and neck between Gerry Adams’s Sinn Féin and the DUP”, Arlene Foster said in Belfast on Monday when launching her party’s manifesto.

Ms Foster, speaking at a Belfast hotel, continued her argument that if unionists did not turn out in strength to support the DUP “they will just get Gerry Adams with a strengthened hand” in the negotiations expected to take place after the election.

The DUP leader was also critical of Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt who pledged his second transfer vote to the SDLP in East Belfast where he lives.

She said that in terms of the nationalist and unionist vote, the SDLP and the UUP were trailing behind Sinn Féin and the DUP respectively. The UUP was not running to win – “they are now running to stop the DUP from winning”.

“I know other parties don’t like us saying it but the reality is that every vote for another unionist party is a vote which is lost in the battle to make sure that Sinn Féin does not win this election.”

Ms Foster set out 10 reasons why it mattered to unionism if Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party after polling on March 2nd. Such a result would “give republicans a massive mandate for their demands with the British government”.

“Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin would use an election victory as a justification for a Border poll which would be divisive and destabilising.”

She said Sinn Féin as the largest party would put Sinn Féin in line to take the First Minister’s post and also make Stormont harder to restore. “Make no mistake, it is not the DUP but the British government that Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin want to be dealing with.”

Security services

Ms Foster said such a scenario would threaten economic recovery, would lead to the “sort of sectarian abuse of power” that resulted in restricting the number of days the British union flag flew over Belfast City Hall, and also result in the “glorification of convicted terrorists”.

She said for these and other reasons it was “inexplicable, sad and shameful that Mike Nesbitt would urge people to transfer to the SDLP ahead of other unionists”. (While Mr Nesbitt said he would transfer to the SDLP, he said that other UUP candidates could offer guidance on transfers as they saw fit.)

Ms Foster in her speech and in the manifesto said that rather than laying down red-line issues or a series of demands she was setting out 10 principles that would govern the DUP in its negotiations after the election.

Primarily, the DUP wanted to see devolution back up and running, and it remained “committed to working constructively and in partnership with all those who are in an executive” after the election.

“The reality is that whatever the exact structures we have at Stormont these will only work if the parties are prepared to work within them and work at them. As recently as last November, Sinn Féin accepted our good faith efforts and I hope once the election is out of the way that they will do so again.”

Public inquiry

Ms Foster did not address this point, and she did not take questions at the manifesto launch because, her spokesman said , she was suffering from the flu.

The DUP leader said: “We will honour all previous commitments we have made on the basis that republicans will honour theirs as well. Even after this unnecessary and damaging election we will stand over the commitments that we have made in the past to help ensure politics works.”

Ms Foster made no reference to the RHI debacle which could result in an overspend of £490 million (€575m) and was the trigger that precipitated the election. She said, however, that the DUP would “respond positively to any proposals to increase transparency, accountability and to help the institutions function more effectively”.

DUP MANIFESTO MAIN POINTS

Work to restore devolution after election;

Will honour previous commitments as long as Sinn Féin honours theirs;

Work to get “best” Brexit deal for Northern Ireland;

Oppose a Border poll;

Prioritise spending on health;

Create more jobs and increase incomes;

Protect family budgets;

Improve educational standards;

Increase investment in infrastructure;

Oppose “rewriting of the past”.