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Politician & Activist

Arlene Foster

Arlene Isabel Foster PC is a Northern Irish politician serving as First Minister of Northern Ireland since January 2020, and previously from 2016 to 2017.

She has served as Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party since 2015 and Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for Fermanagh and South Tyrone since 2003.

She was a Councillor on Fermanagh District Council representing Enniskillen from 2005 to 2010.

  • Full name: Arlene Isabel Foster PC
  • Profession: British politician
  • Born: 3 July 1970 (age 49 years), Enniskillen
  • Spouse: Brian Foster (m. 1995)
  • Children: Ben Foster
  • Education: Enniskillen Collegiate Grammar School (1982–1989), Queen’s University Belfast
  • Books: Without Trumpets: Continuous Educational Improvement, Journey to Sustainability
  • Parents: Georgina Kelly, John Kelly
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About Arlene Foster

Foster was born on 3 July 1970 in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. And, was raised in the townland of Dernawilt, County Fermanagh, between Lisnaskea and Roslea.

She is a member of the Church of Ireland. 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.

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.

She was a pupil at Enniskillen Collegiate Grammar School in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh from 1982 to 1989, and attended Queen’s University, Belfast where she graduated with an LL.B. degree.

Career

Her political career began at Queen’s University after she joined the Queen’s Unionist Association, part of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).

She served as the association’s chairman from 1992 to 1993. 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.

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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.

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, where she gained 28.8% of the vote.

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 alongside the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Robinson returned earlier than planned, on 3 February 2010.

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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 it.

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 said that the voices calling for her resignation were those of “misogynists and male chauvinists”.

Under the terms of the Northern Ireland power-sharing agreement known as the Good Friday 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 2017 snap assembly election to be held, in which the DUP lost 10 seats.