Fewer than third of MLAs express support for Arlene Foster as First Minister

DUP leader Arlene Foster has come under pressure not to take the post of first minister until the RHI inquiry concludes. Picture by Arthur Allison
Gareth McKeown

SHOULD Arlene Foster be nominated by the DUP as first minister in a restored executive, she would have the express support of less than a third of the MLAs at Stormont.

To date only her own party, which accounts for 28 of the 90 newly-elected assembly members, has rallied behind her.

Sinn Féin said this week it would "unacceptable" for Mrs Foster to be part of an executive while the public inquiry into the botched Renewable Heat Incentive scheme continues.

The Irish News yesterday asked all the other parties represented at Stormont, as well as the sole independent MLA, if they would support the DUP leader as first minister.

Independent unionist Claire Sugden, who agreed to serve as justice minister with the DUP and Sinn Féin in the last executive, said it was matter for Mrs Foster.

However, the East Derry MLA added that she is "now becoming the story".

"It should not be about that, it should be the people of Northern Ireland and how we can move forward and if she is providing a distraction to that then I think there is a leadership decision she has to take," she said

Last month SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mrs Foster cannot return to the role of first minister while an RHI inquiry is ongoing.

"Arlene Foster can't just expect to step back into government. She needs to step aside until that public inquiry reports," he said.

Green Party leader Steven Agnew also said yesterday that Arlene Foster should wait until the inquiry ends.

“Arlene Foster should create breathing space for everyone by holding off any return as first minister until after the RHI inquiry has concluded – this was the verdict of the bulk of the people during the election and something that the DUP leader should not ignore."

People for Profit's sole MLA Gerry Carroll said "under no circumstances" should Arlene Foster be re-instated as first minister, even temporarily.

The Alliance Party said it has not asked Mrs Foster to step aside but "suggested that she should in order to allow a clear investigation to take place".

"For Alliance this is not about personalities and preconditions, but policies and practice."

The Ulster Unionist Party said it was "entirely a matter for the DUP as to who it nominates as its choice for first minister", although before Christmas party leader Mike Nesbitt called for Mrs Foster to step down as first minister over her role in the flawed RHI scheme.

The TUV, meanwhile, would not be drawn on the question.

The first and deputy first ministers were previously elected by the assembly on a cross-community vote, but since the 2006 St Andrews Agreement they are nominated by the biggest parties of in each of the largest designations.

Mrs Foster said earlier this week that while Sinn Féin had made the issue of her stepping aside a "red line", her party was "not drawing red lines" in negotiations on restoring devolution.

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