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Foster response on united Ireland question defended by Donaldson

Paddy Kielty and Arlene Foster during the documentary My Dad, the Peace Deal and Me

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has defended Arlene Foster's claim that she would likely move in the event of a united Ireland.

The former first minister made the remarks during a BBC documentary by Paddy Kielty entitled My Dad, the Peace Deal and Me, marking 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement.

The Co Down-born comedian, whose father Jack was shot dead by loyalists in 1988, asked the DUP leader how a unionist would feel if a majority voted for a unified Ireland.

Mrs Foster said such a scenario was unlikely but if it did come to pass she would consider leaving Ireland.

"I would probably have to move," she said.

Requests for the Fermanagh-South Tyrone MLA to elaborate on what she said have yet to elicit a response from the DUP, but party colleague Sir Jeffrey Donaldson yesterday commented on Mrs Foster's remarks.

He insisted a united Ireland was "not going to happen" and said his party leader had responded to a hypothetical question.

"Mrs Foster was reflecting how the Protestant population dwindled in the Republic of Ireland after partition – those with a British identity did not feel welcome," he said.

"Sinn Féin spins to unionists that they would be welcome in a united Ireland yet when unionists look at how Sinn Féin-controlled councils treat unionists currently within Northern Ireland there is a very different reality."

The Lagan Valley MP listed a series of episodes where he claimed republicans had failed to respect unionism, including blocking British armed forces recruitment days, former Sinn Féin Belfast mayor Niall Ó Donnghaile's decision not to present British army cadets with awards in 2011, failure to allow the Union flag "to fly a few days per year", and relegating "English to a second language".

"Whilst not broadcast on the programme, Arlene rightly pointed to the strong arguments for the union, whether the economy or our fantastic and invaluable National Health Service," he said.

A Sinn Féin spokesman said the DUP leader's comments were "indicative of the lack of leadership in political unionism".

The spokesman said the prospect of Brexit and ongoing demographic changes had "propelled the debate on Irish unity centre stage".

"This follows the DUP leadership's failure recently to deliver a reasonable accommodation which would have seen the restoration of the political institutions on the basis of equality and respect," he said.

However, Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said Sinn Féin's track record provided "firm evidence that there would be no place for armed forces veterans" in the party's vision of a united Ireland.

The former British soldier claimed Sinn Féin had resisted efforts to extend a military covenant to Northern Ireland.

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