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Arlene Foster to forge new Northern Ireland with education revolution

By Steven Alexander

Published 01/01/2016

Arlene Foster.
Arlene Foster.

The woman who will lead Northern Ireland in 2016 has vowed that "no child will be left behind in the Northern Ireland that we are building".

New DUP leader Arlene Foster also pledged to visit every corner of the region as she sets out her stall for the future, with her priority on education.

The Fermanagh MLA said that "2016 brings a massive change for my role in Northern Ireland".

"I want to be ambitious for the country and party that I lead," she added. "We mustn't limit ourselves. In the coming days, I will travel to every corner of our country. I will meet the people directly and set out my vision for the party and for Northern Ireland."

Mrs Foster said she was from a generation that "felt the Troubles very acutely". In 1998, a bomb exploded on a bus Mrs Foster, then a schoolgirl, was travelling on, and her policeman father was also shot by the IRA.

"Some of us suffered directly, some of us still live with the scars," she said. "Those scars show where we have been, but they should not hold us back on making Northern Ireland great again.

"They must spur us on to rebuild a country that our children can be proud to live, work and raise their family in."

Mrs Foster also told how she "will always defend our education system". "It was that which enabled me, the first ever in my family, to reach university," she said. "It is unimaginable that I would be where I am today without our education system. But I also want to make this a reality for the hundreds of young people whose potential is not being harnessed."

Mrs Foster, who will become First Minister in January, said the DUP would be announcing a range of policies designed to tackle underachievement in 2016.

"I know that we all hope for the very best for our children," she added. "We want them to have the best education available. From their first steps on the educational journey until they enter their desired field of employment.

"None of us want our children to have to leave these shores in search of work. We want them to live here and contribute to the country.

"That is why I am absolutely determined that no child will be left behind in the Northern Ireland that we are building. The DUP will redouble our efforts to ensure the hopes and dreams of our young people are realised and that no one is written off."

She also said she looked forward to "cheering with the Green and White Army in the European Championships" - Northern Ireland's first major football tournament in 30 years.

Mrs Foster added that she was thinking ahead to the centenary of the Battle of the Somme in France, "an event which will always be remembered for the unimaginable loss of life but also the heroic efforts of Ulstermen".

"We will reflect too on the centenary of the Easter Rising and the role events in Dublin in 1916 had in the creation of Northern Ireland," she said.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, meanwhile, said "2016 will be a decisive year for Northern Ireland", as he pledged to publish his alternative vision for government for in the region early in the New Year.

"Everyone yearns for better after eight years of Sinn Fein/DUP led government at Stormont," he added. "I believe the Ulster Unionist Party is now in a position to deliver better."

The sports fan also wished Northern Ireland every success at the Euro Championships in France.

"By then, I fervently hope Rory McIlroy has won his first Masters to complete golf's grand slam of major titles, and that Carl Frampton has been victorious in his world super-bantamweight clash with Scott Quigg at the Manchester Arena in February, to set up a vintage year for local sport," he added.

The Strangford MLA also told how he would be paying his respects at Thiepval and the Ulster Tower for the Somme centenary.

"It is also the centenary of the Easter Rising, an event the Ulster Unionist Party will mark by exploring the causes and consequences, one of which was the sequence of events which led to partition and the creation of Northern Ireland," he said.

The new SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, also reflected on this year of key 100th anniversaries.

"The momentous centenaries in the coming months will, very rightly, draw huge attention," he said. "Every tradition on this island must work to ensure 2016 is a vibrant mix of celebration and commemoration.

"History always offers a choice; it can make us rigid or make us open. In this of all years, it is incumbent upon us all to make the right choice. In 2016 we should strive to avoid the narrow absolutism of a single truth.

"Ours is a complex history and we should be sensitive to those complexities. Too often the temptation remains to reach for simple certainties. History rarely provides such certainties. Politicians should avoid promoting triumphalist simplicities. I won't be doing it nor will my party.

"What is of true importance is that, whether commemorating those who marched on the GPO or those who marched on the fields of the Somme, they are all of them deserving of respectful remembrance. All of them."

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising "should be a time for national renewal, hope, and political progress across Ireland".

The Louth TD added: "In this important year, working together, the people of Ireland can make important steps towards a genuine republic and a citizen-centred, rights based society."

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