Arlene Foster’s “feed the crocodiles” snap could come back to bite her

Posted By: February 08, 2017

By Noel McAdam. Belfast Telegraph. Tuesday, February 7, 2017

It wasn’t just what she said; it was at least as much about the way she said it.

After all, Arlene Foster insisting she will never allow an Irish Language Act is not exactly headline news.

But the former First Minister has come under fire from foes across the political spectrum over recent months for being abrasive and arrogant.

And in those terms, her answer to my question on Monday was textbook case-study stuff.

The DUP campaign launch in Lurgan had been winding towards a close when, suddenly, Mrs. Foster bared her teeth.

I started out referring to her speech in which she admitted having made mistakes and lamenting no one was sorrier about how things have turned out that herself.

I asked if she was referring to anything beyond the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme and, if so, what.

But that was just my part-one preamble to suggesting that, given their position of strength in the last two Assemblies – with even more seats (38) than they expected – surely the DUP could have afforded to be magnanimous to Sinn Fein through – for example – an Irish Language Act.

You would have thought I had asked somebody to turn up the boilers.

Mrs. Foster was “amazed” anyone could come to that conclusion. What was I thinking? That, she said, was precisely not how she did business.

To loud cheers from the party’s seated candidates, she said: “I will never accede to an Irish Language Act.”

“Since there were more people in Northern Ireland who spoke Polish than Irish, perhaps there should be a Polish Language Act as well?

“If you feed a crocodile it will keep coming back and looking for more,” she went on.

Of course, the DUP leader was playing to the gallery. Naturally, she knew how well her words would play in the DUP heartlands.

But perhaps, just perhaps, she went slightly too far in giving her opponents the opportunity to, well, snap back.

And her outburst – for that is how it came across – threatened to overshadow the other carefully constructed messages in her lengthy address.

Sinn Fein couldn’t have been happier when the remarks were relayed to them at their candidate launch in Belfast a few hours later.

“See you later, alligator,” quipped Gerry Adams. And new Northern leader Michelle O’Neill – whom Mrs. Foster had characterized as being used by Mr. Adams like a glove puppet – declined to become involved in “negativity.”

But Sinn Fein can be expected to use this over the next few weeks. It could all end in crocodile tears.