Arlene Foster plays down reports of internal DUP unrest over her leadership
Arlene Foster has played down suggestions her leadership of the DUP is under threat.
Stormont’s First Minister was responding to reports of internal unrest within the party.
The Belfast News Letter has reported that several DUP constituency associations have written letters expressing concern at her decision to abstain on a recent Assembly vote on a motion calling for a ban on gay conversion therapy that did not incorporate a specific mention of protections for religious practices.
The paper also referred to internal discontent at Mrs Foster’s handling of the Brexit process, amid anger being directed at the DUP from some within the broader unionist and loyalist community for the emergence of an Irish Sea border.
We’ll just deal with it and move on because I’ve bigger things to do
Mrs Foster was asked whether her leadership was in question on a visit to a youth centre in Belfast on Tuesday afternoon.
“Stories on leadership come up from time to time, and it’s one of those times,” she said.
“So we’ll just deal with it and move on because I’ve bigger things to do, including getting us through this Covid pandemic, including listening to the concerns of working-class communities.
“These stories come up from time to time. This is no different.
“I haven’t received any letters from constituency associations so I’m not going to get into a running commentary on these issues, they come up from time to time. I think it’s important to note that there is the big job of work to do. We have a year left of this mandate.
“It’s important that we lift our eyes and continue the work of rolling out of the restrictions, deal with the Northern Ireland Protocol.”
While there was widespread support for ending conversion practices during the Assembly debate last Tuesday, the reach and scope of legislation was a matter of contention.
A majority of DUP members opposed a motion calling for a ban after failing to amend it.
Mrs Foster and four party colleagues, including fellow Stormont Executive minister Peter Weir and Diane Dodds, abstained in the vote on the substantive motion, rather than opposing it.
This prompted speculation of a split with more religious fundamentalist elements in the party.
The original motion said it was “fundamentally wrong to view our LGBTQ community as requiring a fix or cure”.
The DUP amendment, while supporting a potential ban on gay conversion practices, sought to include protections for “legitimate religious activities such as preaching, prayer and pastoral support”, insisting those do not represent conversion therapies.
The amendment, which was defeated by 59 votes to 28, was criticised by political rivals for attempting to remove the line from the original motion saying it was wrong to view the LGBTQ community as requiring a “fix or cure”.
While Mrs Foster and her four party colleagues voted for the amendment they did not oppose the unamended substantive motion.