As the head of a party who campaigned to “Save Ulster from sodomy” in the 1970s, who opposed the legalisation of homosexuality into the 1980s, and who continue to block same sex marriage today, this was initially welcomed as a genuine act of progress.
She was greeted with rapturous applause, with people hanging on to her every word. But, after claiming she values the LGBT+ community in spite of her opposition to same sex marriage, she then made a stunningly tone deaf plea to the long-suffering minority group assembled in front of her.
“All I ask in return is that my and my party’s view are also respected, if not agreed with.”
In effect, what she really meant was, “Even though I personally stop you from gaining equal rights, you’ll have to believe me that really I think you’re alright. Oh, and if you could have the decency to respect my opposition to your equal rights, that would be lovely.”
As we have seen in her handling of the RHI scandal, Arlene Foster has a reputation for audacity, but this hits a new level. Her exit from the stage was greeted with considerable less fervour.
Foster will quickly learn that she cannot have her cake and eat it. She cannot tell LGBT+ people she respects them, while voting against them in government.
The DUP’s voting record speaks for itself. The vile, hurtful comments her colleagues have made over the years speak for themselves. Foster would have to go a whole lot further than the bizarre double-speak she performed last night in order to repair such damage.
The LGBT+ community does not have to settle for such sheepish gestures from the DUP in 2018. Also gathered in the room last night were representatives from all other parties in Northern Ireland. They support equality. They vote for us. They are on the right side of history. And if the DUP continue as they are, they will only lose support, and votes, in the long term.
Foster went on to say that her party was founded “on the principle that everyone is equal under the law, and equally subject to the law.” This is staggering when you consider that LGBT+ people are equal under the law everywhere across these islands except in Northern Ireland – because of her party.
If Arlene Foster was a real leader, she would tell the LGBT+ community that while she disagrees with their right to marry, she will not stand in the way of that becoming the law, because it affects their lives, and not hers. Instead, she insists on imposing the religious beliefs of her party members on the rest of Northern Ireland.
Contrast this with how the Republic of Ireland are shaking off the ties of church and state, and modernising rapidly in spite of the Catholic Church, with their landmark referendums on same sex marriage and abortion.
Unionism is about to face its greatest challenge yet, as the tragedy of Brexit makes a united Ireland a more realistic and appealing prospect than ever before. While support for reunification in Northern Ireland has historically been measured at about a third, a recent poll showed 44 per cent in favour it, compared with 49 per cent for remaining in the UK.
This is getting close, and it’s the DUP’s worst nightmare. Yet they continue to fail in any attempts to make Northern Ireland a better place for people who might be on the fence. Arlene Foster and her party truly are playing a losing game.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies