Saturday 20 January 2018

Foster a hardened veteran despite her meteoric rise to top

David Young

ARLENE Foster's elevation to Northern Ireland's acting First Minister comes after a meteoric rise through the ranks of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The first ever female to take Stormont's top job, the 39-year-old's appointment is all the more noteworthy as she was once a prominent member of the DUP's fierce rivals -- the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).

The mother of three's defection from the David Trimble-led UUP along with fellow high-profile representative Jeffrey Donaldson in 2003 was a significant milestone on the DUP's path to becoming the North's largest unionist party.

A lawyer by vocation, the Fermanagh and South Tyrone Assembly member had already shown herself to be a skilful political operator before joining the ranks of Ian Paisley's party.

And she soon enhanced that reputation with her new colleagues, quickly overcoming any lingering suspicions over her past loyalties to establish herself as a key player in the DUP's frontline team.

An obvious choice for a ministerial role when devolution was restored to Stormont in 2007, she was duly appointed Environment Minister at the age of just 36.

And while the DUP have reshuffled their cabinet line-up on a number of occasions since, she has remained ever-present, taking on the prized enterprise portfolio just as the recession began to take hold.

Whether they were passed over or just didn't want the job, it is a telling indication of Ms Foster's sway among party faithful that it is she, and not more senior figures, such as Finance Minister Sammy Wilson and deputy leader Nigel Dodds, that will be sitting behind the First Minister's desk today.

Raised near Lisnaskea in Co Fermanagh, she was educated at the Enniskillen Collegiate Grammar School, going on to study law at Queen's University, Belfast.

A rugby fan whose policeman father survived a murder bid during the Troubles, she lives in Fermanagh and commutes most days to fulfil her ministerial and assembly duties.


Last year, Ms Foster unexpectedly decided to re-enter local politics when she was selected as the DUP's candidate to fight a council by-election in Fermanagh following the death of a party colleague.

The move was all the stranger given the criticism some of her party colleagues were facing for having multiple mandates.

But in a close-run contest, the DUP decided a high-profile name was needed to secure victory.

The gamble paid off when she won the seat by a distance, but the campaign was not without controversy.

Ms Foster's already strained relationship with her former party colleagues in Fermanagh disintegrated when former UUP environment minister Sam Foster asked how she could take on another job without neglecting her role as a mother.

The remark was met with a typical fiery response from a young mother, who is already a hardened political veteran.

Irish Independent

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