Saturday 1 October 2016

Arlene Foster elected DUP leader and set to be NI's First Minister

Lesley-Anne McKeown, Press Association

Published 17/12/2015 | 20:41

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster

ARLENE Foster has been formally elected as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and will be elected Northern Ireland's First Minister.

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The Stormont Finance Minister was the sole nominee to replace Peter Robinson as head of the largest unionist grouping in Northern Ireland.

The 45-year-old mother of three is the DUP's first female leader and she will become the first woman to lead Northern Ireland when she takes on the role of First Minister next month.

In a speech to the DUP party faithful at the Park Avenue Hotel in east Belfast, she said: "The style of leadership may change but the fundamental values of this party will not.

"I want to take our cause and our case to every part of the province.

"I want to make the case for the Union to every class and creed.

"I want us to help make the lives of our people better."

Her appointment followed a vote by DUP Assembly members and MPs which was ratified by the party executive.

Two other contenders, deputy leader Nigel Dodds and Sammy Wilson, ruled themselves out of the race for the leadership.

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA made a high-profile defection from the Ulster Unionist Party in 2004 over the early release of paramilitary prisoners and the decision to share power with Sinn Fein.

Her father was targeted by the IRA when she was aged eight and then as a teenager, she survived a republican bomb attack targeting the driver of her school bus who was a part-time Ulster Defence Regiment soldier.

She added: "The Troubles have scarred Northern Ireland's history but we must not let them shape our future. We have an opportunity to build the best legacy possible to those who lost their lives during the Troubles - a prosperous Northern Ireland, confident, outward looking and at peace with itself."

She said she had a positive vision for the future of Northern Ireland.

"The people of Northern Ireland don't want to hear their politicians squabbling about issues that seem unconnected to their daily lives," she added.

"People who get up early in the morning, get their kids to school, go and do a hard day's work and come home tired, don't want to turn their TVs on and hear us sound completely and utterly out of touch with real life, arguing over things that don't matter to them or their family.

"They want to know that when they work hard and pay their taxes that their government is doing its best to ensure that their children get a good education, that their parents will get the healthcare they need when they need it and that they will be supported if times get tough."

Hinting at a change of direction for the party, founded by former firebrand Free Presbyterian Ian Paisley, Mrs Foster said: "We will never resile from our belief that Northern Ireland is best served being part of the Union. But unionism is about all of us and not anyone alone. It is about everyone working together as one, for the greater good, to build a Northern Ireland we can all be proud of.

"I want people to support the DUP because we are the best defenders of the Union that is so important to the success of Northern Ireland.

"But I also want people of all religious persuasions, from all social backgrounds to make this party their home because we are the ones who can create a growing economy, who can best reform our NHS and who can tackle educational underachievement in our working class communities."

Mr Robinson, 66, announced his intention to resign as DUP leader and Stormont First Minister last month, days after signing a political deal with Sinn Fein and the British and Irish Governments to stabilise the rocky power-sharing administration in Belfast.

Among the first to offer congratulations was Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.

She said: "I am sure that Arlene will be committed to doing the right thing for everyone in Northern Ireland.

"I very much look forward to working with her."

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