Arlene Foster rejects speculation about her role as DUP leader

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By Michael McHugh and Rebecca Black, PA

Arlene Foster has rejected speculation her leadership of the DUP may be under threat.

Eleven of her Stormont Assembly members abstained from this week's vote on legislation giving ministers more powers.

At issue is the party's ability in future to veto a minister's actions which it disagrees with.

The First Minister said her colleagues harboured concerns about the speed with which the law was passed.

She added: "There was a gap identified in relation to significant and controversial issues.

"If we did not have a programme for government then those issues could be taken by those ministers in their departments."

She said: "It is now very clear that all significant or controversial matters must come to the Executive committee whether or not we have a programme for government."

The Executive Committee Functions Bill passed its final stage on Tuesday.

The bill was passed before Stormont went into recess on Tuesday.

South Belfast representative Christopher Stalford said his party fully supported it, but his colleague Jim Wells voted no and said some other members were extremely unhappy.

Trevor Clarke, Alex Easton, William Humphrey and former ministers Mervyn Storey and Michelle McIlveen were amongst those to abstain.

The new law was introduced after a court judgment two years ago over a waste incinerator.

It overturned the Executive's approval for the facility near Mallusk in Co Antrim and cast into doubt the extent of ministerial powers.

Mrs Foster said she had access to a broad range of legal opinion before backing the bill.

"Others do not have access to that and I acknowledge that."

She said nobody had communicated any threat to her leadership.

"No one has expressed that to me or any of my senior colleagues."

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