Arlene Foster was elected as a councillor for Enniskillen to Fermanagh District Council in 2005. Subsequently she resigned the local government seat in order to concentrate on her role as MLA and minister in the Northern Ireland Executive. Following the death of Councillor Joe Dodds of the DUP, it transpires that Foster will fight the resultant by-election with the intention of retaining the seat and once again taking up office as a local councillor. The DUP’s decision betrays desperation and disregard for both the electorate and the importance of local government.
The post of Economy Minister should be sufficient to occupy any politician on a full-time basis. Given that Foster has ambitions to become a Westminster MP, there is a possibility that she may be spread still more thinly in two years time. What level of attention would she be able to afford her council constituents and the business of the council given her current duties, never mind if she wins a subsequent election and assumes more? We know that the DUP accords Westminster a low priority, but with its insistence on dual and triple mandates, necessarily constituents are being short-changed.
Another issue attends Foster’s selection for this election. Fermanagh Council’s Ulster Unionist group leader, Bertie Kerr, precipitated a by-election when the DUP tried to co-opt a student called Thomas Hogg to the council as a replacement for Joe Dodds. Kerr was lambasted for his actions, indeed he continues to be lambasted for his actions, which he took on the basis that Hogg was not a suitable candidate for cooption. It seems that now the electorate is to be consulted as to who should represent them at council level, Hogg is not considered a suitable candidate by the DUP either, which begs the question, why was there response to Mr Kerr so vociferous in the first place?
Fielding Arlene Foster in a council election in order to avoid a second by-election defeat is a move which is both desperate and selfish. In conjunction with Iris Robinson’s comments, which increasingly make her sound less a spokesperson for the party’s fundamentalist wing and more someone who is a little unhinged, surely some of the more circumspect unionists who had to swallow hard before casting their vote for the DUP will be encouraged to reconsider?