Arlene Foster admits to mistakes in leadership that has seen some ‘dark moments’

Arlene Foster has acknowledged she has made mistakes as DUP leader, expressing regret for some of the things she has said.

Reflecting on some “dark moments” that have marked her four-year tenure, Ms Foster insisted she would not walk away from the post, regardless of the outcome of the election.

Ms Foster suggested mistakes in her use of language were down to human frailty, insisting she had always been motivated by doing what was best for Northern Ireland.

Critics of the DUP leader have accused her of making overly antagonistic remarks that have angered nationalists.

Irish language strategy protest
Irish language campaigners dressed as crocodiles protest over Stormont’s failure to introduce an Irish Language Act (Niall Carson/PA)

The most frequently referenced came ahead of the March 2017 Assembly election when, explaining her opposition to Sinn Fein calls for an Irish Language Act, she said: “If you feed a crocodile it will keep coming back and looking for more”.

In a pre-polling day interview with BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme, Ms Foster was asked what mistakes she had made as leader.

“I think things have been said that shouldn’t have been said,” she replied.

“I would paraphrase the Queen – ‘would have been better said differently, or not at all’.”

When asked by host William Crawley if she referring to the crocodile comment, Ms Foster replied: “You may say that, I couldn’t possibly comment.

“When you look back and you say there have been mistakes made, and undoubtedly there have been mistakes made, but we are all human and I think the important thing is that my motivation has always been to do the right thing, at the right time and for the right reasons and when I ask people to back the DUP that is the focus of what I am trying to do.”

General Election 2019
DUP leader Arlene Foster speaking at her party’s General Election manifesto launch (Brian Lawless/PA)

Ms Foster said it was important that everyone in politics in Northern Ireland reflected on their use of language going forward.

“We could all do with looking at our language and looking at – if we want to build a shared society here in Northern Ireland, as I do – then we have to look at the language and recognise that that is the case,” she said.

Ms Foster indicated that she did not consider her refusal to temporarily step down as First Minister at the height of the Renewable Heat Incentive crisis as a mistake.

Sinn Fein pulled the plug on the devolved Executive in January 2017 when Mrs Foster refused to stand aside for six weeks to facilitate an investigation into her role in the botched green energy scheme.

The late Martin McGuinness resigned in protest at her decision – a move that precipitated the power-sharing crisis, which has left Northern Ireland without a functioning government for almost three years.

Ms Foster told Talkback that standing aside would not have made any difference, insisting that Sinn Fein was set on bringing down the institutions whatever she did.

Commenting on her tenure as leader, she added: “Peter Robinson told me when I took the job off him that there would be dark moments and there have been dark moments and I am not going to lie to you.

“But it’s also very true that there are very rewarding moments such as the time that we brought £1.5 billion of extra resources (through the confidence and supply deal with the Conservatives) into Northern Ireland and we were able to bring money in that otherwise wouldn’t have come. The Westminster election (2017) was a great high as well.

“There’s much to do in Northern Ireland – I am not a quitter, I am someone who believes in trying to put forward our proposals, our policies, our vision for Northern Ireland, and I will want to see that delivered through the Assembly.

“I could have walked away and not stood for the Assembly again in March 2017 but, as I say, I’m not a quitter, I want to see things delivered here in Northern Ireland.

“Have mistakes been made? Yes, mistakes have been made.”

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