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Arlene Foster gets the nod for DUP leadership on anniversary of her father’s death

By David Young and Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 10/12/2015

Arlene Foster inspects the flooding close to the Erneside Shopping Centre in Enniskillen yesterday
Arlene Foster inspects the flooding close to the Erneside Shopping Centre in Enniskillen yesterday

The DUP's Arlene Foster was marking the fourth anniversary of her father's death as she learned yesterday she is to become the new leader of her party.

The Stormont Finance Minister is the sole nominee to replace retiring Peter Robinson, who will stand down on January 11 when the Assembly returns from its Christmas recess.

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA, a high-profile defector from the UUP in 2004, has been endorsed by the party’s deputy leader Nigel Dodds, who ruled himself out of the running for the top job on Monday.

If appointed First Minister, Mrs Foster, a mother-of-three, will be the first female leader of the devolved Stormont administration.

As the news sunk in yesterday, she took to Facebook to remember her father, John Kelly, on the anniversary of his death.

“This day four years ago I was in Heathrow when I got the news that my precious daddy had died,” she wrote. “Today I was also in Heathrow, and as I thought about him, as I do every day, I couldn’t help but wonder what he would say to me about all the news... Miss you.”

Speaking to reporters earlier, Mrs Foster vowed that any difficulties in sharing power with Sinn Fein would be “set aside” for the good of Northern Ireland.

“That has been a challenge and it has been a challenge since we have been in government with Sinn Fein,” she said.

“I know what it is to work alongside people with whom I have fundamental differences, but I do so in the knowledge that it is good for Northern Ireland and it is good for the people of Northern Ireland, and therefore any difficulties I have in relation to that, I have to set them to the side to do what is right for Northern Ireland.”

Her relationship with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will also come under scrutiny after Ian Paisley and Mr McGuinness were dubbed the “chuckle brothers”, while Mr Robinson and the Sinn Fein MLA were known as “the brothers grim”.

She said: “He is no stranger to me. I have worked alongside him in the Executive and will continue to do so because I believe it is right for the good of Northern Ireland.”

Mrs Foster, who stood in as First Minister for six weeks in 2010, said her style of leadership would differ from that of Mr Robinson.

“I am following not just a big act but an enormous act, and I fully recognise that of course,” she said. “But by the very nature of being a different person and a different gender I will have a different style, there is no doubt about it.”

As the deadline for nominations closed at 5pm yesterday, Mr Robinson took to Twitter to confirm Mrs Foster was the sole candidate.

“The proposal to endorse Arlene as party leader will be put to a specially convened meeting of the DUP electoral college,” he said.

“The resolution of the electoral college shall go to the party’s central executive committee for ratification immediately thereafter.

“I look forward to handing over my @DUPleader handle to the new leader.”

The DUP’s MLAs, MPs and sole MEP are due to meet to officially select their new leader in an east Belfast hotel next week.

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