Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Low-key start for Arlene Foster in First Minister role

Arlene Foster was asked by DUP leader Peter Robinson to step in as First Minister

Arlene Foster was back on the floor of the Assembly yesterday. However, she was not speaking in her new temporary capacity as First Minister, but as Enterprise Minister.

The “interim” joint leader of the Stormont government headed up an hour-long adjournment debate on plans to extend natural gas to east Antrim.

And, while she has replaced Peter Robinson for up to the next six weeks, the DUP minister today has “back to back” meetings with a number of interest groups, again wearing her Trade and Investment hat.

Although temporary partner to deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Mrs Foster has no plans to move into Mr Robinsons’ office in Stormont Castle.

Instead, according to her officials, she plans to stay put in her own Department of Trade and Industry headquarters a mile away at Netherleigh House in Massey Avenue.

Tomorrow she will co-chair her first Executive as First Minister and then quickly change portfolios to speak on the item that now always kicks off the Stormont meetings — the state of the economy.

And at some point, a spokeswoman for the minister said, she will have briefings by senior civil servants to familiarise herself with Office of First Minister issues.

“But it will be more or less a holding operation,” a party source said.

“Her new responsibilities will not interfere with her duties as Enterprise Minister.”

Mrs Foster began her first full day yesterday with an RTE radio interview.

“Peter hasn't left the scene, he is still the leader of the party, very clearly, and he is still the First Minister. I am only acting up in that regard,” she told RTE.

The Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA was also taking part in on-going discussions with Sinn Fein on the vexed issue of policing and justice, although Mr Robinson as DUP leader is taking the lead for the anticipated intense negotiations over the period of the present hiatus. His temporary replacement said, however: “We in our last manifesto said very clearly that we wanted to see the devolution of policing and justice powers.

“But it must come to a Northern Ireland that is stable and durable so that we can do it for the people of Northern Ireland.”

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