Arlene Foster: Why I regret crocodile remark
Posted By: March 09, 2017
Rodney Edwards. Impartial Reporter.Enniskillen.Thursday, March 9, 2017
DEMOCRATIC Unionist leader Arlene Foster has said she regrets describing republicans as “crocodiles” ahead of last week’s snap election because it “allowed Sinn Fein to demonize me.”
The embattled former first minister retained her Stormont seat but lost running mate Lord Maurice Morrow in what she has described as a “bruising election.”
In an exclusive interview with The Impartial Reporter yesterday (Wednesday), Mrs. Foster:
Mrs. Foster addressed a breakfast event hosted by Rotary Club of Enniskillen yesterday on International Women’s Day in which she spoke of the importance of “reconciliation.”
But remarks before the election about Sinn Fein such as ‘if you feed a crocodile it will keep coming back and looking for more’ in relation to the party’s desire for an Irish Language Act infuriated republicans and in many ways became the narrative of the contest.
Asked if she regretted making the remarks criticized by Sinn Fein, Mrs. Foster said: “I regret in so far as it allowed Sinn Fein to use it against me and to use it to demonize me.”
“Sinn Fein mounted a campaign of demonization against me and to a certain extent succeeded in that. I just have to prove to people that I am the same Arlene Foster as I have always been.”
Mrs. Foster was then asked if she is against the use the Irish language given some of her previous comments, including when she said: “Since there were more people in Northern Ireland who spoke polish than Irish, perhaps there should be a Polish Language Act as well?”
“The crocodile comment was in relation to Sinn Fein and not in relation to the Irish Language Act. I have always made it clear that if people want to converse or learn the Irish language then they should be allowed to do so and should be able to do so and indeed we have spent millions of pounds through the Executive. We spent £171 million on the Irish language including Irish language education so it’s entirely wrong to say we don’t support the Irish language.”
Asked to respond to the suggestion by some of her critics that she is ‘anti-Catholic’ Mrs. Foster said: “Anybody who comes into my constituency office knows that is complete nonsense.”
“I have worked through all my years as MLA for everybody regardless of class or creed. In fact, one of my Catholic constituents came down to the Omagh count center to wish me well. It’s nonsense to suggest that I don’t work for everybody in the community.”
During her speech at last week’s election count, Mrs. Foster talked about the need for ‘civility’, a point Michelle Gildernew picked up on when she took to the stage.
“I listened very closely to the leader of the DUP talking about civility and I really hope that that civility extends to the Irish language community and the LGBT community,” she said.
In response, Mrs. Foster said: “After what had been a pretty bruising election I wanted to try to sound a note of optimism in terms of building for the future and trying to put what had happened behind all of us. Unfortunately, Sinn Fein was not interested in that sort of language. For those of us who live in the West, we are used to that sort of triumphalism from Sinn Fein. When people lecture about respect, integrity, and equality they need to reflect that that has to be for everybody and not just for them. There needs to be mutual respect for those of us from a British/Orange culture, and one that is not going away,” she said.
Mrs. Foster sparked a furious reaction from many Sinn Fein supporters when she walked out of the election count center as Mr. Lynch, a former IRA commander, took to the stage after being elected. Asked why she walked out, she said: “Nobody should be surprised that I don’t have much respect for Sean Lynch… I don’t think anyone should be surprised that I really didn’t want to hear want he wanted to say.”
Last year Mrs. Foster publicly criticized Mr. Lynch who paid tribute to Seamus McElwaine, the man whom she believes tried to murder her father. He was shot dead by the SAS in 1986 as he and Mr. Lynch tried to ambush an Army patrol near Rosslea. As Mrs. Foster left the counting center on Friday, Mr. Lynch quipped “see you later, alligator” to loud cheers.
“He was able to berate me from the stage in a fashion that was most unbecoming of people who have been lecturing us about respect,” she responded.