Arlene Foster criticised over "blonde" remark describing Michelle O'Neill

DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein leader Michelle O'Neill . Picture by Pacemaker.
By John Monaghan and Gareth McKeown

DUP leader Arlene Foster has come under fire after describing Sinn Féin leader Michelle O'Neill as "blonde".

The reference, regarded as a negative stereotype, was carried yesterday in an interview with a Sunday newspaper.

Despite complaining about she is portrayed by the media in the same interview, the DUP leader said "blonde" sprung to mind when asked which word she would associate with Sinn Féin's new northern leader.

"I don't want to be sexist because I can't...", she said but when prompted further by a journalist from The Sunday Independent, she replied "blonde".

Mrs Foster 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."

Republicans last night called on Mrs Foster to retract the "sexist and disparaging remarks".

Sinn Féin Foyle MLA Elisha McCallion said: "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 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 also spoke of her shock at the remarks

"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," she said.

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

The comments came as Mrs Foster was pictured meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May during a visit to the Balmoral Show outside Lisburn on Saturday.

The Tory leader, who is on a whistle-stop tour of Britain, made a surprise appearance on the last day of the popular agricultural show.

As well as meeting crowds and posing for selfies she met the DUP leader who introduced her to her young son.

Sinn Fein said they were not made aware of the event, but said they were not surprised Mrs May "teamed up" with Mrs Foster given their shared position on Brexit.

The NIO said it was not involved in planning the visit. It is not known if other Stormont parties, including the DUP, were made aware of the visit.

The DUP 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."

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