N. Ireland Politics

DUP's Edwin Poots: Remarks on Arlene Foster 'not sexist'

Northern Ireland first minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Arlene Foster became the first female leader of Northern Ireland on Monday

A Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MLA has defended comments he made regarding Northern Ireland's new first minister that critics have said were "sexist".

As Arlene Foster took Stormont's top post on Monday, Edwin Poots said her "most important job" remained "that of a wife, mother and daughter".

His remarks were criticised by gender equality campaigners who said his attitude was "belittling" of women.

But Mr Poots said he places the same importance on his role as a father.

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Media captionEdwin Poots said Arlene Foster's "most important job" remained "that of a wife, mother and daughter"

Speaking in the Northern Ireland Assembly shortly after Mrs Foster's appointment as first minister, he said it would be the "second most important job that she will ever take on".

"Her most important job has been, and will remain, that of a wife, mother and daughter," he added.

Feisty

"Family will always come first. I know that that will be the case with Arlene, and it should be the case."

As a result, he faced accusations of sexism.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback, he said he made no apologies for "defending the family".

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Edwin Poots said he put his role as a father ahead of any political jobs he held

"Whenever I was health minister, I very often stated that it was the most important political job that I had but it was the second most important job that I had," he said.

"My most important job was that of being a father, a son and a husband.

"If we don't get it right in the home, then we won't get it right when we come in to the office either."

Priority

Adrianne Peltz, a feminist writer and broadcaster, said his comments in the assembly had taken away from Mrs Foster's inauguration as first minister by "basically putting her in her place".

"I don't think Arlene needs to be told by another member of her party where her priorities should be," Ms Peltz said.

Suzanne Collins, of Women For Election, an Irish group that trains women for political roles, said Mr Poots's comments were "really, really disappointing".

"On a day of real celebration, not only for the DUP but for women in politics, it was very unfortunate that has been overshadowed by these comments by a political colleague, not even a political opponent," she added.

"It's everyday sexism and only serves to discourage more women from entering into politics, particularly women who have younger families."

Detracting

But Mr Poots said he made the remarks because Mrs Foster "is a friend and I know the importance of family to Arlene".

"Arlene told me that the main reason she didn't put her name forward for Westminster election was because she had the opportunity of coming home every night to her family," he said.

"She wanted to stay in the Northern Ireland Assembly because family was of such importance to her.

"That's where the background to these comments comes from.

"People who are making the whole fuss about this are detracting from the fact that we have got a brilliant, capable person to be our first minister."

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