Arlene Foster has taken the Irish News to write a platform piece seeking to debunk myths about her relationship with Sinn Fein
On the Irish Language Act she said;
Let me say from the outset I respect those who have different cultural interests to me. Those who genuinely want to learn and speak the Irish language are entitled to do so as part of the increasing diversity of our society. However there can be no escaping the fact that some have politicised the language and if we are to move forward together we most do so from a position of mutual respect for each other’s cultures and traditions.
My opposition to the political demand of an Irish Language Act is not based on a hostility to the Irish language but on potentially costly proposals which would guarantee Irish being treated as the same as English, affirmative action for Irish speakers in the civil service and the creation of criminal offences for failure to co-operate with a new Irish Language Commissioner.
I believe it would have a more positive impact on the lives of everyone living here if the money was invested in improving our society as a whole in the health service and schools.
She also writes about her relationship with Sinn Fein;
The draft Programme for Government was agreed and signed off by us both without a harsh word or even a lengthy negotiation. I felt this was a sign of the growing maturity between the parties – working together on the issues that really mattered to all of our people. And even when differences did arise between the two parties, we sat down and resolved them behind the scenes and away from the cameras.
Indeed there were many positive things achieved by Martin McGuinness and I during our time in government that were beneficial to everyone. The litany of criticism laid at my door since December by Sinn Féin went either almost or totally unmentioned for the preceding 10 months. So too did the demands which have now moved centre stage.
As the Political Correspondent, John Manley notes;
Now the DUP leader appears to be rowing back from her belligerent opening gambit of the campaign.
Foster does seem to be using the Irish News to frame the choice as one between Direct Rule and Devolution. However, I would not agree with John in the respect that her speech last Monday miss-fired at all and that this was some attempt to walk it back. Her speech will have motivated many of her supporters and did get her launch to dominate the headlines for 24 hours and placed the UUP Leader, Mike Nesbitt in a tricky position.
It is important to remember that within a Northern Ireland Election, there are really two micro elections; one within Unionism and the other within Nationalism. Like train tracks they run alongside one another, only meeting at certain points. There are few seats that represent a straight Unionist/Nationalist fight anymore, the majority of the contest is within their own respective ideologies. Foster’s language will have played to a section of Unionism that wants to see a tough approach on these issues.
The other important point to remember about our elections is that with turnout down to mid 50% range, you do not need a broad base to win. Receiving 25% plus of the vote is enough to get a party across the line in an election, this is about motivating your base to think that you are worth voting for and sucking the enthusiasm of the other side. It is the latter, I think Foster has taken to the Irish News today to try and sell a choice for Nationalist voters of devolution v direct rule.
The entire platform and analysis is worth a read in full in today’s Irish News.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs