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Sinn Fein rejects Foster claim that Michelle O'Neill 'blonde' remark 'meant as a compliment'

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

SINN Féin has dismissed DUP leader Arlene Foster's insistence that her description of Michelle O'Neill as "blonde" was intended as a compliment.

Mrs Foster made the remark when a Sunday Independent journalist asked her what word she would associate with Sinn Fein's northern leader.

She said "I don't want to be sexist and I am not going to be sexist because I can't..." but replied "Blonde" when pressed.

"Michelle is very attractive," she added. "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."

Sinn Féin claimed the comments were sexist and called on Mrs Foster to withdraw them.

However, the former first minister said yesterday they were "meant as a compliment".

"If they have been taken any other way, that is a matter for people who have taken them the other way," she said.

Asked if she regretted the remarks, or if they could be seen as sexist, the DUP leader repeated that they were meant to be complimentary.

She claimed the response to them showed more "about Sinn Féin than it does about me".

However, Sinn Féin last night described Mrs Foster's explanation as "ludicrous" and insisted the remark was "overtly sexist".

"Her attitude to this is characteristic of the DUP's arrogance and lack of respect for large sections of the community," a party spokesman said.

"Arlene Foster should withdraw the remark as political leaders have a responsibility to encourage women to participate in public life in greater numbers rather than engage in negative stereotyping."

Following Mrs Foster's comments, Ms O'Neill said there was no room for sexism in society.

"There is no right or wrong way to look and women are in positions of leadership because we belong, representing everyone equally," she said.

Ms O'Neill's daughter Saoirse also tweeted that Mrs Foster's comments were "disgraceful".

"Mummy has blonde hair yes, she also has class, smarts and strong leadership skills that empower the great women around her," she wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the SDLP claimed yesterday that Sinn Féin and the DUP are "punishing people" instead of restoring power-sharing.

Leader Colum Eastwood also accused his republican rivals of pursuing a "scorched earth" policy as he urged an end to the sense of constant crisis at Stormont.

Mr Eastwood was in Newcastle in Co Down to launch his party's general eection campaign.

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