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Arlene Foster may have made mistakes but she's still supported in Fermanagh

Arlene Foster has remained popular in Fermanagh irrespective of criticism in recent months. Picture by Paul Firth/PA Wire
Gareth McKeown

A former newspaper editor in Fermanagh has said Arlene Foster has been "very badly advised" in recent months, but maintains strong support in her native county.Denzil McDaniel, editor of the Impartial Reporter for 27 years up until 2013, said the DUP leader performed poorly, highlighting her role in the RHI scandal and controversial comments in which she compared Sinn Féin to hungry crocodiles and said there would "never" be an Irish language act.

"My opinion is that it has been very badly handled, she's been very badly advised, there's no question about that," Mr McDaniel said.

"A lot of comments that I would have heard from what I would call ordinary voters have been critical. There was quite a bit of criticism from unionists, but it didn't translate at the polls. Her vote did drop (322 first preference votes), but it didn't drop significantly so a lot of people would have basically said she's wrong and criticised her, but once it came to the crunch the vast majority of unionists went in and voted for her that would have voted for her before. It didn't damage her electorally."

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In March's snap Assembly election the DUP leader once again topped the poll in Fermanagh South Tyrone, but was left to reflect upon 10 lost party seats, including that of running mate Maurice Morrow.

"She's personally popular here, they're critical of her yes, but the people are prepared to put up with her and support her because they know her personally. Despite how far she has risen in the party, she's still the local representative. She comes down here often, she goes to events here, so she's still very much the local woman and hasn't lost the common touch."

Mrs Foster's decision to attend the funeral of her former ministerial colleague Martin McGuinness was a move which provoked anger amongst some within unionism, but Mr McDaniel insists the people of Fermanagh recognised it was "the right thing to do".

"I haven't heard any criticism of her, I think most unionists thought it was the right thing to do. It was one of those situations where she had to do it almost. I'm not suggesting there hasn't been criticism, of course there has, but by and large people accepted that she had to do it."

As for the former solicitor's position as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party the ex-editor believes it is beyond reproach in Fermanagh.

"I think Fermanagh tends to be rather different. She is popular, she gets on with people, she's their representative. I think in the rest of the north there may well be criticism and tensions, but within Fermanagh I don't see her leadership in question at all. The people of Fermanagh recognise her mistakes, but by and in large they remember her good work over the past 20 years," he added.

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