Foster says Sinn Féin cannot dictate who is DUP leader

She says the recent election was a "wake-up call"

Foster says Sinn Féin cannot dictate who is DUP leader

Arlene Foster | Image: Sky News

The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, says Sinn Féin cannot dictate who leads her party.

But Mrs Foster says the rise in support for Sinn Féin in last week's election was a "wake-up call" for unionism.

She told Sky News: "A lot of people have been talking to me since last Friday when the results were becoming known and (there is) a great sense of shock, and 'how could this happen?'.

"I think it has been a bit of a wake-up call in terms of Unionism in Northern Ireland".

However Mrs Foster claimed she had not once considered resigning as party leader, despite the party 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.

"Certainly 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".

Mrs Foster refused to step aside during an investigation into a controversial cash-for-ash scheme, which was introduced when she was enterprise minister.

It was designed to encourage businesses to replace older heating sources with more eco-friendly alternatives.

But a lack of cost controls meant businesses were receiving more in subsidies than they were paying for renewable fuel, and the scheme was drastically oversubscribed.

Foster's party narrowly remains the largest in Northern Ireland | Image: Brian Lawless/PA Wire/PA Images

Asked if she would resign if her being leader was a stumbling block to forming a power-sharing executive, she said: "We're in negotiations and that's what it's all about at the moment.

"But Gerry Adams, in particular, and Sinn Féin 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.

"Because of course it is up to our party to decide who are nominee would be."

"I have said all throughout the week that of we get into the territory where we're each telling each other who to select, we will want to of course say to Sinn Féin 'We think you should select X, Y and Z instead of A, B and C'.

"They can't tell us who to select as our nominees, and likewise we can't tell them".

Asked which was more important: the restoration of power-sharing or her leadership, she replied: "You know the answer to that - of course it's never been about me".

The DUP and Sinn Féin have less than two weeks left to form a government in Stormont, or risk a return to direct rule from Westminster.