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Arlene Foster

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The Right Honourable
Arlene Foster
MLA
Arlene Foster MLA.jpg
Arlene Foster in 2015
Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party
Assumed office
17 December 2015
Deputy Nigel Dodds
Chairman The Lord Morrow
Preceded by Peter Robinson
4th First Minister of Northern Ireland
In office
11 January 2016 – 9 January 2017*
Serving with Martin McGuinness
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by Peter Robinson
Succeeded by Vacant
Minister for Finance and Personnel
In office
11 May 2015 – 12 January 2016
First Minister Peter Robinson
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
Preceded by Simon Hamilton
Succeeded by Mervyn Storey
Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment
In office
9 June 2008 – 11 May 2015
First Minister Peter Robinson
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
John O'Dowd (Acting)
Preceded by Nigel Dodds
Succeeded by Jonathan Bell
Minister for the Environment
In office
8 May 2007 – 9 June 2008
First Minister Ian Paisley
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
Preceded by Dermot Nesbitt
Succeeded by Sammy Wilson
Member of the Legislative Assembly
for Fermanagh and South Tyrone
Assumed office
26 November 2003
Preceded by Joan Carson
Personal details
Born Arlene Isabel Kelly
(1970-07-03) 3 July 1970 (age 48)
Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland
Political party Ulster Unionist (Before 2003)
Independent (2003–2004)
Democratic Unionist (2004–present)
Spouse(s) Brian Foster
Children 3
Alma mater Queen's University Belfast
Website Official website
*Foster served as Acting First Minister from 11 January 2010 – 3 February 2010 and 10 September 2015 – 20 October 2015 while Robinson was on leave.

Arlene Isabel Foster MLA PC (née Kelly; born 3 July 1970) is a Northern Irish politician serving as Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party since December 2015 and Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for Fermanagh and South Tyrone since 2003.

Foster served in the Northern Ireland Executive as Minister of the Environment from 2007 until 2008, Minister for Enterprise and Investment from 2008 until 2015 and Minister for Finance and Personnel from 2015 until 2016. In January 2016, Foster became First Minister of Northern Ireland and shared power with Martin McGuinness.

McGuinness resigned as deputy First Minister in January 2017 amid the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal, which involved a green energy scheme that Foster set up during her time as Minister for Enterprise and Investment. The scheme was set to cost the taxpayer £490 million and there were allegations of corruption surrounding the scheme. McGuinness asked Foster to step aside as First Minister while her involvement in the scheme was investigated, but she refused to step aside or resign and claimed that the voices calling for her resignation were those of misogynists and male chauvinists.[1] Under the terms of the Northern Ireland power-sharing agreement, the First and deputy First Ministers are equal and, therefore, Foster could not remain in her post as First Minister. McGuinness's resignation caused a snap election to be held.

Background

Foster was born in Enniskillen[2] and was raised in the townland of Dernawilt, County Fermanagh, located between Lisnaskea and Roslea.[3] She is a member of the Protestant Church of Ireland.[4] Her experience with the Troubles began early in her life when a night-time attempt was made to kill her father, a Royal Ulster Constabulary reservist, who was shot and severely injured at their family farm; the family was forced to leave the Roslea area.[3]

As a teenager, Foster was on a school bus that was bombed by the IRA, the vehicle targeted because its driver was a soldier in the Ulster Defence Regiment. A girl sitting near her was seriously injured.[5] She was a pupil at Enniskillen Collegiate Grammar School in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh from 1982 to 1989. She was educated at Queen's University, Belfast where she graduated with an LL.B. degree.[6] It was at Queen's University where her political career began after joining the Queen's Unionist Association, part of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).[7]

She served as the association's chairman from 1992 to 1993.[8] After leaving Queen's University she remained active in the UUP, chairing its youth wing, the Ulster Young Unionist Council, in 1995. In 1996, she became an Honorary Secretary of the UUP's ruling body, the Ulster Unionist Council, a position which she held until her resignation from the UUP on 18 December 2003.[8]She was a Councillor on Fermanagh District Council representing Enniskillen ward from 2005-10.

Assembly career

She was elected as an Ulster Unionist in the 2003 Assembly elections. While a member of the UUP, she was part of a "rightwing cabal within the UUP known as the 'baby barristers'." They actively opposed party leader David Trimble, and were a "thorn in [his] side" after he supported the Belfast Agreement.[9]

In 2004, Foster resigned from the UUP and joined the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), together with fellow Assembly members Jeffrey Donaldson and Norah Beare.[10][11] She was selected as the DUP's candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in the 2005 UK general election, where she gained 28.8% of the vote.[12]

Negotiations took place between the local branches of the DUP and UUP with the aim of finding an agreed unionist candidate. The negotiations broke down with neither party willing to accept the electoral dominance of the other; the UUP claiming Foster's defection to the DUP disguised the reality of the UUP's electoral strength, while the DUP pointed to the change in the unionist political landscape following the 2003 Assembly election and the 2004 European Parliament election. The UUP candidate was Tom Elliott. Foster finished second in the 2005 general election with 14,056 votes.[citation needed]

On 11 January 2010, she assumed the duties of the First Minister of Northern Ireland, as Peter Robinson stepped aside for a planned period of up to six weeks. Foster worked alongside the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.[13] Robinson returned earlier than planned, on 3 February 2010.[14]

Minister for the Environment

In September 2007, a privately financed proposal for a new Giant's Causeway centre was given preliminary approval by Foster in her role as the new Northern Ireland Environment Minister.[15] Immediately afterwards, the public money that had been allocated to the causeway development was frozen. The proposal resulted in a public row about the relationship between the private developer Seymour Sweeney and the DUP; Sweeney was a member of the DUP, although both parties denied that he had ever donated financially to the party.[16] On 29 January 2008, Foster announced that she had decided against Sweeney's proposal for a £21 million visitors' centre on a protected greenfield site, reversing her earlier position of "being minded" to approve it.[17] Although the public funds for a causeway scheme remained frozen for the time being, it seemed highly likely that the publicly funded plan for the causeway would now go ahead after all with the support of deputy leader Nigel Dodds.[18]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment

A major concession for Northern Ireland was the reduction to zero of APD on long-haul flights from the province. In the devolution settlement such burdens were to be born by the assembly government. But negotiations proved how DUP could sell their support to Whitehall.[19] In 2011 she had written to OCTF about the need to bring fuel licensing within the remits of the Petrol licensing Consolidation (NI) Act 1929, demonstrating the relevance of cross-border law enforcement jurisdiction in helping to reduce frauds.[20] In respect of devolution, the Treasury heard testimony from several Ulster politicians on the fate of the Presbyterian Mutual Society, the solvency of which still hangs in the balance.

As the minister responsible for energy policy in June 2012, Foster attacked the Co-operative Group over the showing of a documentary opposing fracking, saying, "I find your claim that you take 'ethics to the next level' hard to reconcile with your demonstrable support for a film which presents a wholly one-sided and partial approach to the debate about hydraulic fracturing."[21]

Minister for Finance and Personnel

First Minister of Northern Ireland

Arlene Foster was First Minister of Northern Ireland from January 2016 to January 2017. She set the agenda during her maiden speech as First Minister as one of "hope for all the community".[22]According to pollsters she is one of the least likeable and least popular of any party leader in modern times. Throughout her period in office, a return to conservative social issues compounded by strong support for the government in Westminster made her a scourge of her left-wing critics. In May 2018, for example she announced she would be leading an Orange Order march in Fife, Scotland. As a committed member of the Order, this was a reason behind the original defection from the UUP ten years ago. As First Minister, Foster was emphatic in support for Brexit with a soft border along the republic; yet leaving the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK.

The Cash for Ash scandal came as no surprise to her colleagues as Foster and other hardline DUP leaders have remained convinced that economic development is the way to prevent the Irish republic from hijacking Brexit. While the Government talked about restoring the Executive as a "top priority" the constitutional impasse has made it impossible.[23] In May 2018 for example, a waste plant could not be planned for Northern Ireland because the civil service was paralysed without an executive decision. Foster's personal unpopularity may stem from a moral panic in Whitehall about the inability to govern by direct rule.

Committed to a business case, Foster was responsible for Super-fast broadband connection designed to enhance communications with international offerings. Her success at liaison with ministers, such as Theresa Villiers MP demonstrated administrative competence. The case of HMS Caroline also bore witness how feminine leadership agenda could draw praise from her colleagues in the House, and attract business to Belfast, while galvanising an heroic Unionist vision for Northern Ireland. Regional Aid proved a vital part of the budget within the devolved framework. The reduction of sales and purchase taxes, such as Air Passenger Duty was typically part of her wider experience of stimulating business at DETI.[24] Fighting the cause of private enterprise is Foster's mantra to the core: mobile phone companies and saving Bombardier jobs brought investment of £500 million, while public sector employment has declined.[25]

Controversy

In March 2014 Foster became embroiled in controversy after demanding an apology for what she described as "deeply insulting language" in a comment made by fellow MLA, Anna Lo of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. Lo had described herself as "anti-colonial" and said the partition of Ireland was "artificial".[26]

Foster herself was challenged over the fact that she had chosen to speak out so robustly on the matter, after remaining silent about arguably much more controversial comments made the previous day by another Unionist politician, Progressive Unionist Party leader Billy Hutchinson, i've "no regrets in terms of my past because I believe that I contributed to preventing a united Ireland", crowed the UVF soldier responsible for two sectarian murders during The Troubles.[27][28]

In January 2016, as she was poised to become First Minister, Foster caused controversy by saying she would not be travelling to Dublin for the official centenary celebrations of the 1916 uprising against British rule, describing the rising as "an attack on democracy".[29]

Renewable Heat Incentive scandal

In December 2016, Foster faced criticism and controversy after a whistleblower revealed that the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme overspent by £400m, a failure which has been nicknamed the Cash for Ash scandal.[30] The scheme was originally set up by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI, now Department for the Economy) when she was Minister of the department and the scheme offered incentives to businesses if they installed renewable heating systems, such as burning wooden pellets.

She faced strong criticism after it was claimed that she personally campaigned to keep the scheme open, even when senior civil servants warned of the overspend and the Minister responsible, Jonathan Bell, planned on closing it. It remained open for an extra two weeks before it was finally closed. It was also revealed that the Northern Ireland budget would lose £400m over the next 20 years as a result of the failure of the scheme. An independent audit investigated 300 sites and found there were issues at half of them, including 14 cases where there were suspicions of 'serious fraud'.

When senior civil servants suggested the closure of the scheme in September 2015, the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (now the Executive Office) pressured the department to keep the scheme open, which is when there was a spike in applications.[31] There were calls for Foster to resign as First Minister after the scandal broke.[32][33]

On 9 January 2017, McGuinness resigned as deputy First Minister. Under the terms of the power-sharing agreement that created what is now the Executive Office, his resignation has also resulted in Foster being removed from office, until Sinn Féin nominates a new deputy First Minister; the party stated that it will not replace McGuinness. No nomination was made before 16 January, resulting in the collapse of the Executive. James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, assumed the powers of the Executive and called for a snap election scheduled for 2 March.[34]

In a statement posted to Facebook, Foster said that she was "disappointed" with McGuinness' decision and condemned it as "not principled": "At a time when we are dealing with Brexit, needing to create more jobs and investing in our health and education system, Northern Ireland needs stability. But because of Sinn Féin's selfish reactions, we now have instability, and I very much regret that." She expressed concern over the possibility of another election less than a year after the previous one, and said "this is not an election of our making", but that "the DUP will always defend unionism and stand up for what is best for Northern Ireland."[35]

Brexit

Following the Brexit breakthrough on 8 December 2017, Foster broadly welcomed the deal to progress talks, stating that she was "pleased" to see changes which meant there is "no red line down the Irish Sea".[36]

Recent commentaries have drawn the abortion issue as the nemesis of the May Government. "Frantic" and "last ditch" was how one left-wing journalist described deal with Unionists that holds the government majority together. Only seven Conservatives need to vote against Brexit to bring it down; for both the border issue and abortion are 'red lines' for the ten Unionist MPs.[37] However abortion is a devolved matter, and while social conservatism may be unwelcome in Scotland at present, Arlene Foster's politics remains at one with Mrs May.[38]

Personal life

Arlene has three children by her husband Brian Foster: Sarah, George and Ben.[39] In 2008, she was recognised as Assembly member of the year at the Women in Public Life Awards.[40] Foster supports Scottish football club Rangers.[41]

See also

References

  1. ^ Cunliffe, Rachel (5 January 2017). "By crying wolf over sexism, Arlene Foster undermines other women's achievements". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 1 April 2017. Retrieved 10 June 2017. 
  2. ^ "Fostering ambition: We profile politician Arlene Foster - BelfastTelegraph.co.uk". 
  3. ^ a b Arlene Foster – Profile Archived 11 August 2017 at the Wayback Machine., BBC News, 11 January 2010.
  4. ^ Manley, John (5 April 2017). "Arlene Foster: where did it all go wrong?". The Irish News. Archived from the original on 25 June 2017. Retrieved 10 June 2017. For many observers, the new DUP leader's former associations with the Ulster Unionist Party and her membership of the Church of Ireland represented a break with her party's fundamentalist past. 
  5. ^ Staff. "From bombs to the ballot box: New DUP leader Arlene Foster symbolises the Province's newfound hopes". International Business Times. Archived from the original on 18 December 2015. Retrieved 17 December 2015. 
  6. ^ Biography – Arlene Foster Archived 13 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Arlene Foster's unlikely path to Northern Ireland's top job Archived 15 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine., The Daily Telegraph, 12 January 2010.
  8. ^ a b Political Biography – Arlene Foster Archived 4 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine. Democratic Unionist Party
  9. ^ McDonald, Henry (11 January 2010). "Robinson saga: Profile of Arlene Foster". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 19 May 2015. Retrieved 13 June 2012. 
  10. ^ "Donaldson resigns from UUP". BBC News. 18 December 2003. Archived from the original on 7 June 2004. Retrieved 10 June 2017. 
  11. ^ Jones, George (6 January 2004). "Ulster Unionist MP defects to Paisley". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 1 March 2016. Retrieved 10 June 2017. 
  12. ^ "Election Data 2005". Electoral Calculus. Archived from the original on 15 October 2011. Retrieved 18 October 2015. 
  13. ^ Peter Robinson steps aside as NI first minister Archived 14 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine. BBC News, 11 January 2010
  14. ^ Robinson back as Northern Ireland first minister, BBC News, 4 February 2010.
  15. ^ Developer set to get Causeway nod, BBC, 10 September 2007.
  16. ^ Developer's DUP link 'no bearing' Archived 11 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine., BBC News, 11 September 2007
  17. ^ Gordon, David (29 January 2008). "Foster ditches Sweeney centre". The Belfast Telegraph. pp. 1–2. 
  18. ^ Tom Peterkin (14 September 2017). "Giants Causeway Development Plan Anger". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2018-06-06. 
  19. ^ An Air Transport Policy for Northern Ireland, 28 May 2012, House of Commons Northern Ireland Committee hearings, p.81.
  20. ^ Fuel Laundering and Smuggling in Northern Ireland: 3rd Report, House of Commons, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, December 2011.
  21. ^ Magee, Kevin (14 June 2012). "Arlene Foster criticises Co-operative Group over fracking film". BBC News. Archived from the original on 20 June 2012. Retrieved 24 August 2012. 
  22. ^ Maiden speech as Leader Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  23. ^ vol.791, Hansard, Lord Duncan of Springbank, House of Lords, 23 May 2018.
  24. ^ vol.554, Inward Investment debate, House of Commons, 5 December 2012.
  25. ^ vol.675, 26 February 2014, Public Sector Jobs debate, House of Commons
  26. ^ "Anna Lo: 'United Ireland' remarks 'insulting', say unionists". BBC News. 20 March 2014. Archived from the original on 24 March 2014. 
  27. ^ "What Anna said". Jude Collins. Archived from the original on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 17 December 2015. 
  28. ^ McBride, Sam (19 March 2014). "My murder of two Catholics helped prevent united Ireland – PUP leader Billy Hutchinson". News Letter. Belfast. Archived from the original on 6 August 2015. Retrieved 3 March 2017. 
  29. ^ Henry McDonald. "Arlene Foster: Easter Rising was attack on democracy". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 17 January 2017. Retrieved 17 January 2017. 
  30. ^ "RHI scandal: RHI 'cash for ash' scandal to cost NI taxpayers £490m". BBC News. 23 December 2016. Archived from the original on 28 March 2017. 
  31. ^ "Foster 'intervened to keep heat scheme subsidy open'". BBC News. 14 December 2016. Archived from the original on 15 December 2016. 
  32. ^ Simpson, Claire. "People Before Profit to hold rallies calling for Arlene Foster's resignation". The Irish News. Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 14 December 2016. 
  33. ^ "Arlene Foster rejects call to resign over botched renewable energy scheme". The Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 14 December 2016. 
  34. ^ "Elections to be held in NI on 2 March". BBC News. 16 January 2017. Archived from the original on 16 January 2017. 
  35. ^ "Martin McGuinness resigns as NI deputy first minister". BBC News. 9 January 2017. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  36. ^ "Brexit: Broad welcome in NI and Republic for UK-EU deal". BBC News. 8 December 2017. Archived from the original on 8 December 2017. Retrieved 8 December 2017. 
  37. ^ Revesz, Rachel (4 June 2018). "The Northern Irish abortion issue could topple Theresa May once and for all - here's why". Retrieved 2018-06-06. 
  38. ^ Walker, Peter (29 May 2018). "No plans to intervene on Northern Ireland abortion law, says No.10". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-06-06. 
  39. ^ "A privilege to serve, says Arlene" Archived 18 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine., The Impartial Reporter, 14 January 2010.
  40. ^ "Arlene Foster, MLA Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment". DETI. Archived from the original on 29 May 2012. Retrieved 13 June 2012. 
  41. ^ "Foster visits Ibrox for Old Firm game during DUP break". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 1 May 2017. 

External links

Northern Ireland Assembly
Preceded by
Joan Carson
Member of the Legislative Assembly
for Fermanagh and South Tyrone

2003–present
Incumbent
Political offices
Vacant
Office suspended
Title last held by
Dermot Nesbitt
Minister for the Environment
2007–2008
Succeeded by
Sammy Wilson
Preceded by
Nigel Dodds
Minister for Enterprise and Investment
2008–2015
Succeeded by
Jonathan Bell
Preceded by
Simon Hamilton
Minister for Finance and Personnel
2015–2016
Succeeded by
Mervyn Storey
Preceded by
Peter Robinson
First Minister of Northern Ireland
2016–2017
Vacant
Office suspended
Party political offices
Preceded by
Peter Robinson
Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party
2015–present
Incumbent