Foster: Sinn Fein rise is a 'wake-up call' for Unionism

David Blevins, Ireland Correspondent

Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster has told Sky News the rise in support for Sinn Fein in last week's election was a "wake-up call for Unionism".

In her first broadcast interview since the vote, the former First Minister claimed an increase in Nationalist turnout had been a surprise.

"A lot of people have been talking to me… there's a great sense of shock, and 'how could this happen?' It has been a bit of a wake-up call in terms of Unionism in Northern Ireland," she said.

But Mrs Foster claimed she had not once considered resigning as party leader, despite Unionists losing their overall majority for the first time.

"No I haven't because there's a job of work to be done. I said back in December that the mark of a politician is not what they do during good times but how they tackle the challenges…

"From my perspective, I have a big job of work to do, the party has a big job of work to do and indeed Unionism in general has to step up to the plate now and that's where I'm focused on," she added.

The Democratic Unionists saw their 10-seat advantage over Sinn Fein in the Northern Ireland Assembly drop to one in the snap poll, following the collapse of devolved government.

Asked if she would allow someone else from her party to be nominated as First Minister if it facilitated the restoration of power-sharing, Mrs Foster said she would not provide "a running commentary" during negotiations.

"Gerry Adams in particular and Sinn Fein in general have talked about who they want to see, or rather who they don't want to see, as First Minister in terms of the DUP, but of course it is up our party to decide who our nominee would be," she added.

Mrs Foster rejected the suggestion that Northern Ireland's vote to remain in the EU and the surge in support for Republicanism could bring about a border poll, a referendum on reunification.

"We're leaving the European Union. That doesn't mean that we don't take into account the very particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, given that we will have a land border with another state that's remaining within the European Union, and of course recognising the history, the geography and the special relationship that there is."

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