Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Arlene Foster DUP Leader

Sunday 3 June 2018


SOPHY RIDGE: Now everyone remembers those jubilant scenes in the Republic of Ireland after the abortion referendum but one person who didn’t like what she saw was the DUP’s Arlene Foster who says the celebrations were distasteful. She was speaking to our Senior Ireland Correspondent, David Blevins, who began by asking her if it was time for Northern Ireland to liberalise its abortion law.

ARLENE FOSTER: Of course what happened last weekend was in relation to the constitution of the Republic of Ireland, it was about repealing the constitutional bar on abortion and the result was what the result was. We don’t have a constitutional bar on abortion, the issue should be one that is debated in the Assembly, it’s one that rests with the devolved administration and that’s where we should have the discussion.

DAVID BLEVINS: What about the rights of women who are facing unplanned or crisis pregnancy in Northern Ireland?

ARLENE FOSTER: Well you know, abortion is a very emotive subject, a very sensitive subject and therefore it deserves a serious discussion and a serious mature debate. It certainly does not deserve some of the antics that we’ve seen recently frankly and I did find it, I have to say, quite distasteful to see people dancing about in the streets in relation to the referendum results. This is a serious subject, it therefore deserves to be treated in a very serious way and the way to have that debate, looking at the evidence, speaking to people who have gone through those crisis pregnancies, is to have that debate in the devolved administration. We were elected to that devolved administration last March, nearly 500 days later we’re still not doing the job that we were elected to do and of course there is only party stopping us from doing all of that and bizarrely that’s Sinn Fein, the people who say they want to bring about change in relation to abortion and in relation to same sex marriage so you know, you can’t have it both ways.

DB: Are you seriously suggesting that if there was a devolved government again that there would be potential for change in terms of same sex marriage and abortion?

ARLENE FOSTER: I think what we need to do is be able to put forward a rational explanation as to why we hold those particular views. I have a right to hold a different view than others hold, that’s called tolerance. I have had emails from people in the Republic of Ireland feeling very disenfranchised, can’t quite believe what has happened in the Republic of Ireland. I have had emails from Nationalists and Republicans in Northern Ireland not quite believing what is going on and saying they will be voting for the DUP because they believe that we are the only party that supports the unborn. There are many people who are shocked in the Republic of Ireland today and whilst I completely acknowledge the result that happened last Saturday, that doesn’t take away from the fact that there is a substantial minority of people in the Republic of Ireland today who feel very disenfranchised, who feel very alone, who don’t feel that anybody speaks for them anymore and I think that people need to be very much aware of that.

DB: People will find it hard to believe that you are suggesting that some Sinn Fein voters are telling you they’re going to vote DUP because of your position on abortion?

ARLENE FOSTER: Well you know, people vote for different reasons and I think that’s very clear. For some people this is the number one issue for them when it comes to casting their vote and I think people need to understand that in the wider UK, it is such a big issue here in Northern Ireland. Obviously some people don’t see it as such a big issue and they will vote for other reasons but I think it would be wrong not to acknowledge that there are those who, in my own constituency and right across Northern Ireland, who feel so very strongly about this issue that they will cast their vote on that basis.

DB: It is seventeen months, as you say, since the devolved government collapsed. Why do you think the Prime Minister has not moved to restore direct rule from Westminster?

ARLENE FOSTER: Well of course it is a great disappointment to those of us who want to see governance in Northern Ireland that we haven’t a devolved administration, so we have been saying to the Prime Minister that she needs to take decisions in relation to Northern Ireland. It is completely wrong that constituents, my constituents living in Northern Ireland, are treated any less than people living in the rest of the United Kingdom and they should have an opportunity to be governed and governed properly.

DB: So is the Prime Minister not listening to you? It’s a year since the General Election when your party found itself holding the balance of power at Westminster, what sort of relationship do you have with Theresa May?

ARLENE FOSTER: I have a good relationship with Theresa May but I think she wants to see, as I do, a devolved administration back, she wants to see us around the table. I’m up for that because I believe that’s what the people of Northern Ireland want and Sinn Fein should reflect that it’s what everybody in Northern Ireland wants and come back into a devolved administration and discuss the issues that they say they want resolved. Let’s discuss same sex marriage, let’s discuss abortion issues, let’s discuss the Irish language, instead of putting up a bar to people coming in to a devolved administration.

DB: The next big EU summit is coming up in a couple of weeks’ time, what do you make of the latest suggestion that there could be a joint EU/UK status for Northern Ireland?

ARLENE FOSTER: Well it’s not something I recognise at all, it’s not something that has been put to us as a party or to me as the leader of the party so it is pure speculation I have to say.

DB: To get a Brexit deal without losing the support the DUP, is a new customs union not the only real solution open to the Prime Minister?

ARLENE FOSTER: Well we had said to the Prime Minister that for us our only red line is that we are not treated any differently to the rest of the United Kingdom, that there are no trade barriers put up between Northern Ireland and our biggest market, which of course is Great Britain, so that’s what we will judge all of our propositions that are put forward, we will judge it against that red line and she is very much aware of that and I have confidence that she knows that she cannot bring forward anything that will breach that red line or we simply will not be able to support it.

DB: But you see that’s exactly the issue for many people, they will say that the DUP wants to be treated exactly the same as the rest of the UK in terms of Brexit but differently in terms of marriage and abortion.

ARLENE FOSTER: Well there’s a very simple answer to that of course because marriage and abortion are matters for the Northern Ireland Assembly, they are devolved issues. International relations, trade agreements, are matters for the United Kingdom government and that’s why it’s important that those matters are differentiated upon.

DB: If the Prime Minister felt she had to compromise on the border issue or compromise on some of those social issues, would it cost her the confidence and supply agreement with the DUP?

ARLENE FOSTER: Well I’m not quite clear what you mean by compromise on the border because she has a very clear understanding around the whole UK/European Union issue, she knows that we have to walk in lock step with the rest of the UK in terms of what happens next, so I don’t foresee anything happening there and in relation to the social issues, she has a very clear understanding as well and has done from the time of the confidence and supply agreement, when there was a lot of noise on the mainland about our views around these things and it has always been recognised that those issues are dealt with in a devolved assembly. That’s why we need to have the discussion, I’m up for having that discussion so let’s get on with it.

SR: Arlene Foster there.

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