Northern Ireland: Arlene Foster 'will lead DUP into power-sharing talks'

Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent
There have been suggestions that Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, would stand down. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

The former first minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster has said she will on Monday lead the Democratic Unionists into negotiations aimed at rebuilding power sharing in the region.

Foster said she wanted the discussions to deliver a new regional government and vowed to work with all parties to achieve that.

After the DUP lost 10 seats in Thursday’s Stormont assembly election there have been suggestions Foster would stand down from her post.

But writing in the Northern Ireland tabloid the Sunday Life, she said: “I am listening not just to those who voted for the DUP but to those who cast their votes for other parties.

“When the talks begin on Monday I will seek to work with other parties to create the circumstances where we can not just get the executive up and running again, but do so in a way in which it will endure.”

Sinn Féin is now only one seat behind the DUP after a bruising and divisive election caused by Foster’s refusal to temporarily stand down as first minister after a botched green energy scheme scandal that has the potential to cost taxpayers £500m.

The republican party and its leader, Michelle O’Neill, have also insisted over the weekend that Sinn Féin wants the negotiations to succeed.

“We have a period of three weeks in front of us and whilst the task isn’t easy I think that it’s achievable if people come at it with the right attitude,” she said.

Both the Northern Ireland secretary, James Brokenshire, and the Irish foreign minister, Charlie Flanagan, will attend the talks in Belfast.

The election results mean the DUP (28 seats) and Sinn Féin (27) will once again lead the negotiations aimed at creating a power-sharing government. However, the prospect of the parties reaching agreement in the three-week timeframe imposed by Brokenshire appears remote.

If that deadline passes, the government would be obliged to call another snap election, but it may instead opt to put Stormont in cold storage and reintroduce direct rule, which nationalists are strongly opposed to.

Meanwhile the justice minister in the last power-sharing executive, the Independent Unionist Claire Sugden, confirmed on Sunday she was willing to serve in the post again if the two largest parties asked her to.

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