Arlene Foster addresses PinkNews summer reception in Belfast: Her speech in full

Arlene Foster

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster made history on Thursday night by attending PinkNews’ summer reception at Stormont in Belfast, supported by Citi.

By doing so, Foster becomes the first DUP leader to attend an event focused on LGBT+ rights.

Foster said: “I wanted acknowledge the contribution of the LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland and recognise the diversity [in the country] … some of the brightest and best are part of the LGBT+ community.

Here is her speech in full: 

“Thank you very much Ben for that very kind welcome and parliament buildings range of different functions that I am particularly pleased that right across Norther Ireland people are able to come here and to avail of this wonderful facility. I was in London recently and one of the minister remarked to me that we had the best devolved building in the whole of the United Kingdom – we just needed a functioning assembly. Hopefully that will come soon.

“There has been much media interest in my presence here this evening and in some respects I can understand the reasons for that but from my perspective I look forward to a time that such an attendance will be unremarkable. First of all, by way of introduction, this date June 28th is no ordinary day for me. It’s a difficult day.

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster (Jack Taylor/Getty)

“Shortly after 8am this morning, I paused to reflect and to remember. It was 30 years ago today that I featured on the evening news for the first time in my life and it was for all the wrong reasons. The IRA had detonated a bomb under my school bus – and as a busy mother of three with a fairly demanding job some years the anniversary comes and goes without much notice by the wider world or even those at home.

“But for those of us there that morning it’s never far from our minds. Thirty years on I can still see the injured, I can still smell the burning and still hear the silence and I can still feel the debris as I climbed out – and, yes, I can still sense the fear.

“But as I pause from time to time and think about that morning I’m struck over and over how life could’ve been so much different. This week I’ve read the newspaper stories from the others who were on the bus. We have one event in common but undoubtedly it was a life-shaping moment for us all.

“You see that morning we were all children on a bus with our bus driver. As the ambulance and fire brigade arrived, our religion, race, sexuality did not matter. To the emergency services we were people in need; to our mums and dads we were their children; and to society we were young people with our lives ahead of us.

“So ladies and gentlemen this evening I look out on this gathering and I don’t define anyone on the basis of their religion, or race, or their sexuality. I look at you as my neighbours and as fellow citizens. And it should not be only in our worst moments such as the bus bomb that we are reminded that we are all equal.

“When Bill Mills who I am delighted is here from the Citi Group sent me the invitation a few weeks ago asking me to be his guest the anniversary date did jump out at me but I still wanted to come here tonight and to accept the invitation. I wanted to acknowledge the contribution of the LGBT+ community in Norther Ireland and to recognise the reality of diversity among our citizens.

“I wanted to recognise that some of our brightest and best in this country are part of the LGBT+ community. I wanted to send a clear message from this event that we are all someone’s child and we are all a valued part of this wonderful place we call home.

(Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

“I wanted to use this platform to encourage meaningful engagement rather than megaphone diplomacy because as a mature democracy we must all enter into a new spirit of respectfulness and understand that we are not always going to agree – but we should always try to treat each other with good manners and grace.

“For my part – and it will not be agreed with within this room tonight – I believe I can hold my principle position particularly in regards to the definition of marriage whilst respecting diversity across our society.

“In Northern Ireland we do have a very strong faith community and as people of faith contribute in many different ways to society here including in our business community – they should be free to do so without having to abandon that faith. Because we need to be in a space where we accept each other for who we are and we respect people’s conscientious position.

“Sexuality is for the individual and the value of each of us should not be based on whether we are heterosexual or homosexual and just as 30 years ago all children on that bus were equal so to everyone in this great hall is equal.

Arlene Foster with British Prime Minister, Theresa May

“Just because we disagree on marriage does not mean that I don’t value the LGBT+ community and it’s certainly not a zero sum game as it is sometimes presented. And all I ask in return is that my and my party’s views are also respected if not agreed with. Whilst we disagree this does not prevent us from finding common values to keep Northern Ireland moving forward.

“I’ll finish by saying that my party was founded in 1971, the year after I was born, on the principle that everyone is equal under law and equally subject to the law. If we truly believe in equality of opportunity for all in Northern Ireland then we must respectfully engage and listen to each other’s view pints. Thank you all for listening and enjoy the rest of the reception.”