Arlene Foster resists Father Ted Golden Cleric speech temptation in final address in Stormont and says she has 'unfinished business'

Arlene Foster said she decided against delivering a Father Ted Golden Cleric award-style address in her final Stormont speech this afternoon while saying she has 'unfinished business' and railing against ‘bullying.'
Arlene Foster delivering her final speech this afternoon.Arlene Foster delivering her final speech this afternoon.
Arlene Foster delivering her final speech this afternoon.

The outgoing First Minister was referring to the fictional priest's famously vindictive score-settling speech in a 1996 episode of the popular Channel 4 sitcom.

Her final speech in the top job came on Monday after a rancorous period for the DUP which has been divided between supporters of the new Edwin Poots leadership and the losers in the recent leadership heave and contest.

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"Mr. Speaker colleagues both inside and outside this house know very well that all periods of leadership must come to an end. That is why when we are privileged and indeed honoured with holding such a position we must not waste a moment in frivolous brinksmanship but rather forge ahead on behalf of those we represent.

"While I will miss the exchanges from this seat I am looking forward to fresh challenges. This will be my last speech in this forum but I very much plan to continue to speak up on behalf of women in public life as well as our children by seeking better protections for everyone on social media.

"When I was at school bullying occurred but when children stepped off the bus their home was a safe place and today our young people have nowhere to escape. The bullies are following them right into their bedroom and we must act.

"Mr. Speaker, a former member of this house said to me last week that my closing speech should be in the style of Father Ted Crilly when he received the Golden Cleric award but after a moment of reflection I thought perhaps not.

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"Some of the younger faces in here would be puzzled by who Father Ted was and more puzzled by the name of the award but suffice to say, just like all politicians who resign, I will now spend more time with my family," she said.

The former DUP leader also appeared to pointedly reference her successor Mr. Poots' remark when she took over as First Minister in 2016 that her 'most important job' was that of 'a wife, mother and daughter.'

She said: "My lovely mum, my darling husband and my three beloved children will see more of me whether they like it or not. It's just as well, Mr. Speaker, I am such a good wife, daughter and mother."

But she went on to wish Mr. Poots and the incoming First Minister designate Paul Givan - if approved - well in the future.

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"My time as Northern Ireland's First Minister may have come to a close abruptly but I remain someone with a passion for service, for Northern Ireland and for the union. This particular chapter may be closing but I intend to write some more in the years ahead for I have unfinished business to ensure Northern Ireland succeeds in its new century."

Mrs. Foster said she supported Irish language legislation as part of a broader cultural package.

"The issues of culture and identity have been a running sore through these past few decades which is why a cultural package was needed to move forward comprehensively and sustainably and, I repeat, Mr. Speaker, a cultural package. Far too many in this Assembly and outside it present its content as one-dimensional when it never was and it never could be.

"This contributes to a negative and an unhelpful public discourse when we have proposals to advance all. Too often a demand to advance Irish identity and the language of equality sees simultaneous calls to reduce or denigrate other forms of expression and this was always a destabilising approach in a society seeking healing and risks simply creating a new dispossessed community. The cycle needs to be broken.

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"That's why my team and I sought and secured a cultural package that would see a range of measures to advance identities and protect them for future generations. This is the only model for success, not one step forward for some and one step back for others and this will be the basis for sharing the place we all cherish and take pride in.

"The package includes an Office of Identity and Cultural Expression, an Ulster-British Commissioner, under-pinned by legislation. It includes support to celebrate, reflect and commemorate Northern Ireland's centenary.

"It sees legal and institutional protections for veterans. It includes harmonisation of flag days. It will build for the future with the Castlereagh Foundation and it includes new and broader investment for Ulster-Scots broadcasting and, yes, it also includes a Commissioner for the Irish Language.

"There will be the recommendations of the FICT commission [Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition] to be taken forward as well and I encourage all you to do all of it, to take it forward in its totality, speak of, and implement it, as one complete independent package - a new cultural deal for Northern Ireland's new century."

She ended her last speech with the simple 'over and out.'