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Arlene Foster is right leader for a new era

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 10/12/2015

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster

The scene is set for the coronation of Arlene Foster as leader of the DUP and First Minister in the Executive. No other candidate put their name forward before nominations for the post of leader closed last night, and, barring some cataclysmic event, she will be endorsed this day week.

She will bring a different style to the job, if only because of her youth - she is 45 - and her gender, but that does not mean that she will be a softer touch than the men who came before her.

When she defected from the Ulster Unionist Party in 2004 it was because of her opposition to the direction the party had taken under David Trimble. She was part of a cabal within the UUP known as the 'baby barristers' who took a hard line on power-sharing and, at that time, obviously found a more comfortable home in the DUP.

Coming from a Church of Ireland background in Fermanagh, a county with a strong Ulster Unionist tradition, it was inevitable her defection would cause some friction. Indeed, she fell out with her uncle Sam Foster, a UUP stalwart who has since died, over her decision to leave the party.

But it showed she was a woman who was not afraid to take bold decisions, and the DUP has ever since recognised her as a rising star.

She has held a number of ministerial posts within the Executive, including that of First Minister on two occasions when Peter Robinson temporarily stood down, and she is regarded as very able, both while working to her brief and when speaking off the cuff.

There may be people on the traditional wing of the DUP who will find it difficult to accept her as leader given her background, but many more will see her as a natural choice to continue Mr Robinson's task of modernising the party and broadening its appeal within unionism.

She has a fairly short period of time to prepare for the Assembly elections in the spring. Her primary task then will be to consolidate the DUP's supremacy over the UUP, which has shown signs of resurgence.

While an initial critic of the Good Friday Agreement, she has pledged herself to work with Sinn Fein. Like the party she will lead, she has morphed into a pragmatic politician adapting to new realities in Northern Ireland. She will have to hit the ground running, but has the political and people skills needed for her pivotal role.

Belfast Telegraph

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