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DUP leader Arlene Foster accused of 'trivialising women in politics' after describing Michelle O'Neill as 'blonde'

DUP leader Arlene Foster has been criticised after describing Sinn Féin northern leader Michelle O'Neill as "blonde" in an interview

DUP leader Arlene Foster has been accused of "trivialising women in politics" after referring to Sinn Féin's northern leader Michelle O'Neill as "blonde" when asked to sum her up in one word in an interview.

Asked about what word she would most associate with several Sinn Féin politicians, Mrs Foster hesitated when questioned about the party's northern leader, saying: "I don't want to be sexist because I can't..."

When prompted further by a journalist from The Sunday Independent, she replied "blonde".

Mrs Foster - who in the same interview spoke about the difficulties of being a female politican because "your appearance is always under scrutiny", added: "Michelle is very attractive. She presents herself very well and she always is, you know, her appearance is always very ‘the same'.

"You never see her without her make-up. You never see her without her hair (looking) perfect."

The DUP leader - who previously claimed that calls for her to stand down over the RHI scandal were motivated by misogyny - was urged to withdraw the "sexist and disparaging remarks" by Sinn Féin's Elisha McCallion.

"It is totally unacceptable in the 21st century for a political leader to characterise another political leader based on the colour of their hair," the Foyle MLA said.

"The irony of talking about sexism and misogyny appears to be totally lost on Arlene Foster when she makes such remarks about others."

Alliance leader Naomi Long said it was unimaginable that such a comment would have been made about a male politician and added that the remark "speaks volumes about the state of the relationship between the two parties".

The East Belfast MLA said: "I think that it is disappointing that anyone in leadership, but especially a woman, would opt to describe another female leader in terms solely of her appearance.

"You simply could not imagine such comments about male politicians, which makes it all the more demeaning. It trivialises women in politics."

Ms Long added: "It also speaks volumes about the state of the relationship between the two parties that this was the best supposed "compliment" Arlene could muster about Michelle."

In the interview, Mrs Foster also said she believed the Mid-Ulster MLA was "hand-picked" by Gerry Adams who was "back in control" and "was very much visible and that is very much the case in the negotiations and indeed the press conferences".

The DUP leader also spoke of her hurt at criticism during the RHI fall-out, describing the BBC's The Nolan Show as "for 56 days...like judge, jury and executioner".

She said she received "horrific" abuse on social media, stating that it "got so bad" that her Twitter account is now operated by someone else.

Mrs Foster said: "Particularly for (my daughter) Sarah who has just turned 17. She is a pretty strong independent girl, like her mother, but there were tears. That was very tough.

She also made reference to the difficulties of being a female politician.

"Of course when you are a female politician your appearance is always under scrutiny (but) some of the things that have been said about my appearance - 'Is she really a man?' - that's pretty hard to take when you are the daughter of that person."

The DUP leader added: "There was precious little thought given to my mental health from those people who really had their foot on my neck during that time."

In response to the criticism a DUP spokesman said: "During a wide ranging interview Arlene Foster  was asked about Michelle O'neill.   Nothing that was said was offensive or intended to be so and Sinn Féin have a cheek demanding an apology.  Indeed they would be better served examining some of their own recent words and deeds and the impact they have had on people in Northern Ireland."

And South Belfast DUP MLA Christopher Stalford appeared to come out in support of the party leader when he tweeted a picture of his three blond-haired children holding a DUP rosette with the caption: "Blondies for Arlene".

The image was 'liked' by senior DUP politicians Sammy Wilson and Peter Weir.

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