Arlene Foster

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The Right Honourable
Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster MLA.jpg
First Minister of Northern Ireland
In office
11 January 2016 – 9 January 2017*
Serving with Martin McGuinness
Preceded by Peter Robinson
Succeeded by TBC
Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party
Assumed office
17 December 2015
Deputy Nigel Dodds
Preceded by Peter Robinson
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
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 Northern Ireland 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 46)
County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, UK
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, PC, MLA (née Kelly; born 3 July 1970) is a Northern Irish politician who has been the Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party since December 2015. She also served as the First Minister of Northern Ireland from January 2016 until her involvement in the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal caused Martin McGuinness to resign from the post of deputy First Minister in protest in January 2017. Under the terms of the Northern Ireland power-sharing agreement, Foster is not permitted to remain in office as First Minister without a Deputy First Minister. His resignation caused a snap election to be held.

She has also been the Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for Fermanagh and South Tyrone since 2003. She previously served in the Northern Ireland Executive as Minister of the Environment (2007–08), Minister for Enterprise and Investment (2008–2015) and Minister for Finance and Personnel (2015–16).


Foster was raised in the townland of Dernawilt, between Lisnaskea and Roslea in County Fermanagh. 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, at their home.[1]

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.[2]

She was a pupil at Enniskillen Collegiate Grammar School in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh from 1982-89. She was educated at Queen's University, Belfast where she graduated with an LL.B. degree.[3] 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).[4]

She served as the association's chairman from 1992 to 1993.[5] After leaving Queen's University she remained active in the UUP, chairing its youth wing, the Ulster Young Unionist Council, in 1995.[5] 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.[5]

Assembly career[edit]

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

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.

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 along with the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.[7] Robinson returned earlier than planned, on 3 February 2010.[8]

Minister for the Environment[edit]

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.[9]

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.[10]

On 29 January 2008, Foster announced that she had decided against Sweeney's proposal for a new visitors' centre, reversing her earlier position of "being minded" to approve it.[11] 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.[citation needed]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment[edit]

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."[12]


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".[13]

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. Hutchinson had said in a newspaper interview that he had "no regrets" over his random sectarian murder of two Catholics on their way to work in 1974.[14][15]

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".[16]

Renewable Heat Incentive scandal[edit]

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.[17] 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.[18] There were calls for Foster to resign as First Minister after the scandal broke.[19][20]

On 9 January 2017, McGuinness resigned as deputy First Minister in protest over the RHI scandal. 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 has stated that it will not replace McGuinness. If no nomination is made before 16 January, the powers of the Executive Office will pass to James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who will then call for new elections. 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."[21]

Personal life[edit]

Foster and her husband Brian have three children.[22]

Foster was a Councillor on Fermanagh District Council representing Enniskillen ward from 2005-10. In 2008, she was recognised as Assembly member of the year at the Women in Public Life Awards.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Arlene Foster – Profile BBC News, 11 January 2010.
  2. ^ Staff. "From bombs to the ballot box: New DUP leader Arlene Foster symbolises the Province's newfound hopes". Retrieved 17 December 2015. 
  3. ^ Biography – Arlene Foster Archived 13 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Arlene Foster's unlikely path to Northern Ireland's top job, Daily Telegraph, 12 January 2010
  5. ^ a b c Political Biography – Arlene Foster Democratic Unionist Party
  6. ^ McDonald, Henry (11 January 2010). "Robinson saga: Profile of Arlene Foster". The Guardian. London: The Guardian. Retrieved 13 June 2012. 
  7. ^ Peter Robinson steps aside as NI first minister BBC News, 11 January 2010
  8. ^ Robinson back as Northern Ireland first minister BBC News, 4 February 2010
  9. ^ Developer set to get Causeway nod BBC News, 10 September 2007.
  10. ^ Developer's DUP link 'no bearing' BBC News, 11 September 2007
  11. ^ Gordon, David (29 January 2008). "Foster ditches Sweeney centre". The Belfast Telegraph. pp. 1–2. 
  12. ^ Magee, Kevin (14 June 2012). "Arlene Foster criticises Co-operative Group over fracking film". BBC News. BBC News. Retrieved 24 August 2012. 
  13. ^ "Anna Lo: 'United Ireland' remarks 'insulting', say unionists". BBC News. 20 March 2014. 
  14. ^ "What Anna said". Jude Collins. Retrieved 17 December 2015. 
  15. ^ McBride, Sam (19 March 2014). "My murder of two Catholics helped prevent united Ireland – PUP leader Billy Hutchinson". Newsletter. 
  16. ^ Henry McDonald. "Arlene Foster: Easter Rising was attack on democracy | UK news". The Guardian. Retrieved 2017-01-17. 
  17. ^ "RHI scandal: RHI 'cash for ash' scandal to cost NI taxpayers £490m". BBC News. 23 December 2016. 
  18. ^ "Foster 'intervened to keep heat scheme subsidy open'". BBC News. 14 December 2016. 
  19. ^ Simpson, Claire. "People Before Profit to hold rallies calling for Arlene Foster's resignation". The Irish News. Retrieved 14 December 2016. 
  20. ^ "Arlene Foster rejects call to resign over botched renewable energy scheme". Retrieved 14 December 2016. 
  21. ^ "Martin McGuinness resigns as NI deputy first minister". BBC News. 9 January 2017. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  22. ^ "A privilege to serve, says Arlene", The Impartial Reporter, 14 January 2010.
  23. ^ "Arlene Foster, MLA Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment". DETI. DETI. Retrieved 13 June 2012. 

External links[edit]

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

Political offices
Preceded by
Dermot Nesbitt
Minister for the Environment
Succeeded by
Sammy Wilson
Preceded by
Nigel Dodds
Minister for Enterprise and Investment
Succeeded by
Jonathan Bell
Preceded by
Simon Hamilton
Minister for Finance and Personnel
Succeeded by
Mervyn Storey
Preceded by
Peter Robinson
First Minister of Northern Ireland
Succeeded by
James Brokenshire
Party political offices
Preceded by
Peter Robinson
Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party