Future will not be found in division, Arlene Foster warns MLAs
Outgoing First Minister Arlene Foster has told the Assembly that politicians must stop looking backwards if Northern Ireland is to achieve a shared future.
In what may well have been her last appearance fielding questions from the despatch box, Ms Foster said progress would not be found in division and urged MLAs to show generosity of spirit.
The departing DUP leader, who was forced to quit last month after an internal heave against her, made the comments as she highlighted that responsibility within her party for implementing outstanding commitments in the New Decade, New Approach deal now rested with “others”.
Edwin Poots, who was elected party leader on Friday, is set to appoint a new DUP ministerial team.
While Ms Foster has indicated an intent to stand down as first minister at the end of June, there are suggestions she may face party pressure to leave earlier.
Ms Foster was responding to questions on whether language legislation outlined in the 2020 agreement would be enshrined before the end of current Assembly mandate.
“In terms of getting Royal Assent by the end of this mandate that was of course the intent when we agreed New Decade, New Approach that that would be the way forward,” she told the Assembly.
“Obviously it will be for others now to push ahead in relation to all of the promises in New Decade, New Approach and therefore those will move ahead according to their timetable.
“But I just want to be very clear, as I said in my resignation speech, you know here in Northern Ireland there are people here who are British, others who are Irish, others who are Northern Irish and we have a mixture of all three. And of course we have our new and emerging community as well.
“But we must all learn to be generous to each other, to live together and to share this wonderful country that we’re all so privileged to represent here in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
“So that’s certainly my belief, and I hope it’s the belief of everyone in this Assembly if we were to move forward, we cannot keep looking backwards because the future for Northern Ireland will not be found in division, but instead in sharing this place that we all call home.”
New language laws to protect Irish and Ulster Scots were agreed as part of an overarching cultural package in New Decade, New Approach.
The legislation was to have passed through the Assembly before next May’s election but that timetable has been thrown into some doubt as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some hardline unionists have also voiced opposition to enacting Irish language laws at a time when Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol continues to be the source of political contention.
Ms Foster told MLAs today: “We are committed to the development and implementation of the rights language and identity proposals contained in New Decade, New Approach.
“It has always been our intention to progress these proposals during this mandate and to create the relevant bodies as quickly as possible.”
She added: “There are many things in that New Decade, New Approach that should have moved on by now – progress on health transformation, having more police officers on the ground ,down to very technical issues like moving to three cycles of IVF instead of just two.
“So there are a number of issues that haven’t been able to progress. And I think we all know the reason for that – it’s in terms of Covid-19.
“I’m sure that those will progress now that we are hopefully moving into a better place in relation to Covid-19.”