Northern Ireland

Queen's University defends plans to honour 'peacemaker' Arlene Foster

Former first minister turned GB News presenter Baroness Arlene Foster. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Former first minister turned GB News presenter Baroness Arlene Foster. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Queen's University has defended plans to award former DUP leader Arlene Foster for her "significant contribution to peace" in the wake of her claim that Joe Biden "hates the UK".

Her successor Sir Jeffrey Donaldson distanced himself from the GB News presenter's remarks, as he attended the US President's address in Belfast earlier this week.

Mrs Foster had accused President Biden of being "the most partisan president there has ever been when dealing with Northern Ireland".

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She claimed Mr Biden is regarded as "simply pro-republican and pro-nationalist" and that he "hates the UK".

Sir Jeffrey said comments made by the president in the past were "not helpful" but he described the US as "our strongest ally".

"It's important as unionists that we continue to support that strong relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States," he said.

"Of course, as leader of the DUP, I respect the Office of the President of the United States."

Queen's University Chancellor Hillary Clinton. Picture by PA
Queen's University Chancellor Hillary Clinton. Picture by PA

Mrs Foster is among 25 women to be honoured next week by Queen’s University Chancellor Hillary Clinton for their "contribution to the peace process".

Among the others being honoured are Bríd Rodgers, Dawn Purvis, Mary Robinson and the late Pat Hume.

The former DUP leader has faced criticism over her remarks about Mr Biden on GB News.

SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole said it was "very sad" that the former first minister had resorted to "pathetic smears against the US president".

"President Biden’s remarks in Belfast were sensitive to the deep complexity of identity on these islands, the diversity of his own personal ancestry and the contribution that our people have made to the United States," he said.

"The contrast between understanding and ignorance could hardly be any more stark."

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín said Queen's should reconsider honouring Mrs Foster.

He said the remarks about President Biden were "just the latest in a series of ill-thought out pronouncements and gaffes".

People Before Profit councillor Fiona Ferguson also criticised the involvement of Mrs Clinton.

“A peace ceremony involving a pair like Clinton and Foster is utterly tone-deaf and devoid of any merit,” she said.

“The great and the good will line up to see a warhawk hand a peace prize to a unionist leader known for causing division."  

A spokesperson for Queen's said: "The Recognition of Women Leading Change event will involve awarding of the Chancellor’s Medal for Civic Leadership. 

"The award to Arlene Foster recognises her achievement in becoming the first woman to be first minister of Northern Ireland."