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Video: Teen Arlene Foster puts Jeremy Paxman right on Troubles

By Lesley Houston

Published 11/02/2016

Arlene Foster (left) and Madonna Murphy during the interview
Arlene Foster (left) and Madonna Murphy during the interview
Jeremy Paxman interviews the schoolgirls
Arlene Foster on BBC Spotlight

Even as a teenager, Arlene Foster demonstrated the qualities of leadership that would eventually lead her to the top of politics in Northern Ireland.

Unearthed BBC footage of the First Minister as a schoolgirl being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman shows her consummately answering his questions in 1988.

When shown the recording on BBC Spotlight earlier this week, the DUP leader appeared surprised to see it and said she had forgotten all about it.

The 45-year-old admitted: "Goodness, I don't remember this at all."

Back then, as a sixth-year pupil at Collegiate Grammar in Enniskillen, Mrs Foster's interview took place not long after her school bus had been bombed.

The attack was an attempt by the IRA to kill the coach driver, Ernie Wilson, who was a part-time UDR soldier. He survived the blast, but with serious injuries.

One of the girls who was travelling on the bus with Mrs Foster was the Catholic teenager Madonna Murphy.

Asked by Paxman what effect the violence was having, Ms Murphy replied: "It makes you realise that it can't go on.

"It makes you realise you have to do something to improve relations between Catholics and Protestants."

The BBC interviewer then suggested positive community relations were good and that the two girls appeared to be friends.

But Ms Murphy responded: "Well, we're not enemies, but we never really talk to each other. But we will from now on."

The young Mrs Foster, then Miss Kelly, added: "Yeah, we always sat apart (from each other). In fact, everybody sits apart on our bus."

Watching the recording, the DUP leader smiled as she listened to the commentary.

In a sign of things to come, when the teenager was asked if she was going to challenge the seating arrangements, her sure-footed reply demonstrated both tact and realism.

"Well, I think it's up to the whole bus to change," she said. "In fact, it's up to the whole of the young people of Northern Ireland to change what is happening... to turn against the men of violence."

During the Spotlight interview, Mrs Foster also spoke about how Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness praised Seamus McElwaine, the man she believes tried to kill her RUC officer father, as a "saint".

But in spite of the difficulties it has caused in her relationship with the Sinn Fein veteran and former IRA commander, Mrs Foster insisted it would not stop her working with him.

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