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Arlene Foster talks about her dad being shot by the IRA and 'no logic' in a hard border

Responding to her speech in London, Sinn Féin accused Foster of producing the “same old arrogance”.

Foster speaking today in London
Foster speaking today in London
Image: John Stillwell/PA Images

IN A SPEECH in London today, DUP leader Arlene Foster said that unionism stands for “pluralism and multi-culturalism” while nationalism is “by its nature narrow and exclusive”.

In a wide-ranging speech at the Union and Unionism conference organised by conservative think tank Policy Exchange, Foster rejected the idea of a hard border after Brexit and said that UK had decided as “one nation” to leave the EU.

Describing herself as a proud unionist, she said that her party’s support of Theresa May’s Conservative government was about “much more than Northern Ireland” and attacked the claim that Northern Ireland’s relationship with the UK is more “take than give”.

In a statement responding to the speech, however, Sinn Féin MLA Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said that Foster had produced “no new thinking but more of the same old arrogance”.

Brexit

The DUP has repeatedly insisted it wants the UK to leave the single market and customs’ union after Brexit.

It also finds proposals to avoid a hard border that would see Northern Ireland remaining in these accords with EU, while the rest of the UK leaves them, as unpalatable.

A majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, but Foster said today that the UK voted as “one nation” in favour of Brexit.

“Unionists, throughout the country – those who voted remain and leave – accept that we must exit the EU in a way that causes no damage to the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom,” she said.

In particular, the Prime Minister has been categorical on this matter. We will not support any withdrawal agreement that creates, through a legal protocol, a new regulatory border down the Irish Sea that acts as an impediment to Northern Ireland businesses trading with Great Britain or Great Britain businesses trading into Northern Ireland.

She said that it would be challenging for the British government to deliver on the referendum result but that she wanted to maximise the opportunities that may arise from the country’s exit from the EU.

“As a unionist I see no logic or rationale for a hard border being created between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic,” Foster said. “Indeed we do not want to see that at all.”

She accused those “committed to unpicking the union” of “stirring up myths of border checkpoints”.

Foster added that “some” have sought to use the Brexit vote to sow division in Northern Ireland.

‘No bullet or bomb would dampen… our Britishness’

Foster began the speech by talking about her unionist upbringing and described how her father – a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary – was shot at the door of their home.

“I remember my father crawling into our kitchen with the blood streaming from his head,” she said. “I didn’t fully understand the Troubles at that time but I realised that the enemies of the Union had tried to kill my dad.”

Foster said that the experience shaped her thinking, and that like many others she was determined that “no bullet or bomb would dampen our loyalty, our unionism or our Britishness”.

She said that the relationship between unionists in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK has been strained, and the latter has viewed the likes of the DUP as “being hard to understand or relate to”.

The DUP leader said it’s understandable that Northern Irish unionists appeared a little different as they “felt little loved and saw dangers at every turn”.

Everyone seemed out to get them. Some in the Irish Republic. Some of their own neighbours in their hometowns and villages.

She added that Northern Ireland had come a long way since the Troubles and now unionists wanted to take the next steps.

‘Staggering position’

Sinn Féin’s Ó Muilleoir said that Foster’s comments were arrogant in “dismissing the entire nationalist population in this way”, and said her comments “don’t stack up to the reality”.

He said: “Where is the multi-culturalism for Gaelic speakers who are still being denied equal language rights by the DUP?

Where is the pluralism for the members of our LGBT community who are still being denied marriage equality by the DUP?

The South Belfast MLA accused the DUP leader of collapsing power sharing talks, but agreed with her that the issues which led to those talks falling down could be resolved.

He added: “Unfortunately, the only strategy we have seen from Arlene Foster is to do nothing other than prevent the restoration of the institutions on the basis of equality and there was nothing in her speech to indicate that any new approach is imminent.”

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Sean Murray

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