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Arlene Foster: 'We can't let our scars stop our progress'

By Cate McCurry

Published 11/01/2016

New First Minister Arlene Foster writes exclusively for the Belfast Telegraph
New First Minister Arlene Foster writes exclusively for the Belfast Telegraph

The woman who will become Northern Ireland's first ever female First Minister today has said the horrors of the Troubles cannot be allowed to stop progress.

Arlene Foster has already made history by becoming the first woman to lead the DUP and will be Northern Ireland's youngest ever leader when she succeeds Peter Robinson today.

While Mrs Foster's mother and husband will watch proudly from the public gallery in Parliament Buildings at Stormont today, she said she was saddened that her father died before "seeing his wee girl become the First Minister of Northern Ireland".

Her father, who was a full-time RUC officer, was shot by the IRA on their family farm when she was eight years old.

"He was always my most loyal supporter and would have been so proud," she said.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, the Fermanagh MLA revealed that she remembers the day an IRA bomb went off on her school bus "like it was yesterday".

Mrs Foster was aged 16 and the 1988 attack was an unsuccessful attempt to kill the driver, a part-time UDR soldier.

"I even remember the smell and the deathly silence in the immediate aftermath before the screaming started," she says.

"Of course, we are all shaped by our experiences. Some of us live with scars. Whilst those scars show where we have been, we can't let them cloud our vision in making progress. That is how we show that terrorism did not succeed."

The Roslea native has enjoyed a rapid rise through the DUP ranks since joining the party from the Ulster Unionists in 2004 over David Trimble's leadership. The mother-of-three said she wanted to "instil a new confidence in our people" and a pride in where we live.

Mrs Foster, who has represented the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency since 2003, also spoke of the significance of 2016, saying that it was often talked about in her home.

"People thought there would be a united Ireland by then. There's not and as a committed unionist, I'm glad support for the Union is growing in every area of Northern Ireland," she said.

She added that she is humbled to sit behind the First Minister's desk and by the level of support she has received from her party.

She also acknowledged that the Assembly is "far from perfect" but added that the Fresh Start Agreement would allow ministers to restructure the government system.

"When I travel across Northern Ireland I see people with abundant gifts. Sometimes those people are held back by nothing but a lack of confidence and a poverty of ambition. The only thing they lack is belief. I want everyone to love this country with the same passion that I do."

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