Ian Paisley was an enigma for London, Dublin and Washington. Peter Robinson was seen a weak leader in need of propping up and Mrs Foster was written off as “simply untenable” in leadership terms.
The then Secretary of State made this critical assessment in a briefing to the US consulate on July 2, 2009. Yet, five months later, Mrs Foster was acting as interim leader of the party and most commentators were predicting, wrongly as it turned out, that she take over completely.
Mrs Foster was picked to deputise for Peter Robinson when he decided to stand aside in January 2010 to deal with the aftermath of the Irisgate scandal that had just broken on a TV documentary.
By that time Mrs Foster was seen as Mr Robinson’s natural successor.
There was no opposition within the DUP.
She had been seen as a high- flyer since leaving the UUP for the DUP in 2004 and had served in two ministries as well as winning a UK award as female Parliamentarian of the Year in 2008.
The daughter of a part-time police officer who was seriously injured by the IRA, a successful solicitor and a strong, capable woman, she was seen internally as someone who ticked all the boxes necessary to unite the party. Mr Woodward could hardly have been more wrong about Arlene Foster.