DUP leader Arlene Foster at her party's Northern Assembly election campaign launch placed a major focus on Sinn Féin policy and strategy in Northern Ireland being dictated by the party's president, Gerry Adams.
Ms Foster also warned that if unionists did not rally behind the DUP that Sinn Féin could win the most seats and therefore be entitled to take the First Minister post after polling day on March 2nd.
“Come election day, Sinn Féin could have enough seats to be the biggest party, capture the first minister’s post and push to implement Gerry Adams’s agenda for Northern Ireland. Just imagine what that would mean for our way of life,” she said.
Ms Foster appeared to be working to a tactic of depicting Mr Adams as a sort of bogey man for the unionist electorate during the campaign.
She suggested but for the illness of former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness that the crisis over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) need not have led to the collapse of Stormont.
She said Mr Adams in his “valedictory” period had seized this opportunity to push a wider united Ireland republican agenda rather than the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.
She also claimed, while launching the DUP campaign in Lurgan, Co Armagh on Monday, that Sinn Féin's new Northern Ireland leader Michelle O'Neill was acting under the diktat of Mr Adams.
“Michelle O’Neill was installed by Gerry Adams and she will be instructed by Gerry Adams,” said Ms Foster. The DUP leader focused on Mr Adams a number of times in her speech and repeated that Ms O’Neill was “handpicked to do his bidding”.
“So let’s be clear, at this election Gerry Adams is no longer in the shadows, he is front and centre of Sinn Féin’s campaign. He is their leader and hoping for the opportunity to implement his radical agenda for Northern Ireland,” she said.
“That is why they want to whip up old grievances and fight old battles. They are struggling to come to terms with this new era in Northern Ireland politics.”
Ms Foster said the “cash for ash” crisis which could result in an overspend of up to £490 million over the next 19 years “was not the cause but became the excuse to call this election”.
One of the key issues Sinn Féin is pushing for in this election is an Irish language act but the DUP leader insisted it would not happen.
“I will never accede to an Irish language act,” she said. She said more people in Northern Ireland spoke Polish than Irish. “Should we have a Polish language act as well?” she asked.
“If you feed the crocodile it will keep coming back and looking for more,” she said.
Ms Foster said Mr Adams was exploiting the Irish language and referred to how he had said that equality was the issue "to actually break those bastards" when referring to unionists in Enniskillen in November 2014.
He later apologised for these comments. The DUP leader said that “nobody feels worse” about RHI than she did, that “mistakes were made”, that “things could have been handled better” but that she “did nothing wrong”.
She was confident the public inquiry into RHI announced last month by Sinn Féin finance minister Mairtin O Muilleoir would clear her and her party of any wrongdoing.
“My name will be entirely cleared and the name of this party will be cleared as well,” she said.
Ms Foster rejected Sinn Féin's claim she and the DUP have been acting arrogantly and with disrespect to nationalism. She referred to an article jointly written by her and Mr McGuinness in the Belfast Telegraph last November "lauding the progress that had been made" in the Northern Executive and Assembly.
She noted how at the time they wrote: “We firmly believe that a devolved Executive, with Ministers working together effectively and collectively, is in the public interest. Imagine if we had followed the example of others and decided the challenges of government were just too daunting. That would have opened the door to years of direct rule — Conservative Ministers ruling over us without a mandate. Rest assured this Executive is not going to abandon you to that.”
She said on Monday: “When I signed off on that article, I meant it. And I believe that Martin McGuinness did too. It may well be that Gerry Adams wants to rewrite that part of history too.”