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Northern Ireland news

Neither Arlene Foster nor Jonathan Bell are ‘shrinking violets' says Mark H Durkan

Former Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has said that neither Arlene Foster or Jonathan Bell are "shrinking violets". Picture by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker
Gareth McKeown

A FORMER Stormont minister who has served with both Arlene Foster and Jonathan Bell has said "neither are shrinking violets."

The SDLP's Mark H Durkan said that both senior DUP politicians did not shy away from confrontation after contrasting accounts of a January meeting on the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

"Hearing the allegations and counter-allegations from Jonathan Bell and herself I wasn't particularly surprised at anything I heard," he said.

"It's fair to say neither of those individuals are what you would call shrinking violets."

Mr Durkan recalled Arlene Foster "roaring" at him in relation to a dispute on fracking in Fermanagh.

He said there were "a couple" of confrontations in relation to fracking in the past and another on the formulation of the department's strategic planning policy statement.

"In my experience of dealings with Arlene she certainly wasn't used to not getting her way and didn't like it when she didn't," the Foyle assembly member said.

In his interview Mr Bell described the first minister as "abusive" and said a "highly agitated" and "angry" Ms Foster shouted at him to keep the scheme open.

Mr Durkan said he has seen this side of her before.

"I never found her to be a shrinking violet, I found her to be quite aggressive," he said.

"She wouldn't be averse to raising her voice to amplify a point and then she would often be dismissive of points that you might make back.

"She could be completely dismissive, tut, roll her eyes, shake her head things like that.

"She said people watching last night wouldn't recognise the Jonathan Bell that was being portrayed or what he was portraying himself as, but I'm sure many others watching would find it hard to believe that Arlene felt intimidated by him, regardless of his 'bulk'," the Foyle assembly member said.

Refusing to be drawn on who he believes is telling the truth he said Jonathan Bell was far from the meek individual portrayed on television.

"He would have been in the dealings I had with him forthright and arrogant.

"It's (the interview) all about Jonathan Bell, which won't be unfamiliar to people who know him. I think he does enjoy the limelight," he said.

Arlene Foster speaking to the Irish News in October about RHI:

In relation to allegations of bullying suffered by female colleagues from Jonathan Bell, the Foyle representative said it was curious the matter had not been raised earlier.

Just weeks before the January meeting Mr Bell was one of the signatories for Arlene Foster's nomination for DUP leadership.

"If Arlene Foster was the party leader or even a senior figure within the party and had first hand testimonies of being intimidated and of females being intimidated by Jonathan Bell, why did she not act to do something about that? I'm sure that's a question a lot of women would like to hear answered," he said.

His view was echoed by Alliance leader Naomi Long who called the allegations "serious".

"Has anyone ever made any allegation of intimidation against Jonathan Bell until now? If they have done so, then why has his party leader not taken any action?" she asked on Twitter

The Alliance leader added that the two interviews "raise more questions than they answer".

"They are internally inconsistent, as well as conflicting with each other," she added.

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