Sam Foster death: We didn't always agree, but I admired my uncle greatly, says DUP minister Arlene
Published 20/08/2014 | 02:30
DUP minister Arlene Foster has led tributes to her uncle, the senior Ulster Unionist Sam Foster, who has died at the age of 82.
Though the two had a public falling-out when Mrs Foster left the UUP for the DUP, the Enterprise and Industry Minister yesterday spoke of her "dear uncle" as a "very important politician".
Mr Foster, a former Executive minister, had sparked controversy when he questioned how Mrs Foster could avoid the risk of neglecting her role as a mother because of her Stormont duties.
Yesterday Mrs Foster said: "It is well-known that Sammy and I didn't always agree on the direction of unionism post the Belfast Agreement, but we did, especially in later years, realise the importance of family.
"I respected and admired Sammy's political style – his straight-talking and ability to speak out on issues he felt strongly about.
"He will be missed across society, especially in the loyal orders, but most keenly by his beloved wife Dorothy, his daughter Helen, sons Mervyn and David and their respective families."
Tributes from across the political spectrum were paid to Mr Foster, an Environment Minister in the first Stormont Executive following the Good Friday Agreement.
DUP leader Peter Robinson said: "I knew Sam Foster for many years and whilst we did not always agree on all aspects of politics I respected his strong commitment to unionism and particularly his dedication to the people of Co Fermanagh," he said.
"He was always courteous in his dealings with others and he won a great deal of respect from right across the political spectrum. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, children and the wider family circle at this time."
The long-serving Fermanagh Assembly Member and councillor had been coping with Parkinson's disease for several years and, while retired from front line politics for more than a decade, remained active within the UUP. The party's leader Mike Nesbitt said: "It is a mark of Sam that he was able to gain the respect of political friend and foe alike."
Former leader Lord Empey, who also served on the first Executive, added: "Sam spent decades as an elected representative in a county where the IRA murdered over 200 people. However, once the time came to work with republicans in an attempt to build a more peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland, Sam was certainly not found wanting."
Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "I worked with Sam Foster for a time on the Executive when he served as Minister for the Environment. Despite our obvious political differences, I found him to be courteous, decent and conscientious at all times.
"I wish to extend my sincere condolences to Sam's family and friends at this time."
SDLP MLA Fearghal McKinney, who is from Fermanagh, said: "I knew Sam through most of my working life as a principled politician and one who always treated others with respect."
Alliance leader David Ford said: "He was somebody who was prepared to play his part in turning Northern Ireland around following the signing of the Agreement. He was a true gentleman who was respected by politicians from all parties."
Former Alliance leader and Stormont Speaker Lord Alderdice said he was sad to hear of Mr Foster passing. "He was a decent man and a good MLA," he said.