Belfast Telegraph

Ex-environment minister Foster dies

Former Northern Ireland environment minister Sam Foster has died aged 82, the Ulster Unionist party has confirmed.

He represented Fermanagh and South Tyrone in the assembly and was part of the Executive from 1999 to 2002 under former first minister David Trimble.

Mr Foster was a former major in the Ulster Defence Regiment.

He had Parkinson's Disease.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: "Sam Foster was a huge figure in Fermanagh unionism.

"It is a mark of Sam that he was able to gain the respect of political friend and foe alike. He never held personal grudges and sought to find agreement rather than create strife."

Mr Nesbitt said he rose to high office but never forgot his roots and always remained at heart a Fermanagh man.

"Sam was the living embodiment of a loyal Ulster Unionist who served his country and his party faithfully for many decades and was held in the highest of esteem by all."

The former social worker served as a B Special and then as a major in the UDR.

He was elected to Fermanagh District Council in 1981 and served 20 years, including a spell as chairman. Mr Foster controversially welcomed then Irish taoiseach John Bruton to the council in 1996.

In 1998 he was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly and was awarded the CBE in 2002 for political and public service after retiring from the Executive.

Mr Nesbitt added: "I am proud to have known such a great unionist and Ulsterman and will be forever grateful for the generous support he gave when I joined the Ulster Unionist Party.

"My deepest condolences go out to his wife Dorothy and his family circle. He will indeed be sadly missed."

Former colleague and UUP leader Sir Reg Empey said while a soldier Mr Foster had confronted republicans involved in sectarian assassinations in Co Fermanagh over many years and found it extremely difficult to work with Sinn Fein in the 1990s in the Executive.

He told the BBC: "Fermanagh has lost a great unionist today. He confronted serious illness in recent year, he did that with great dignity and fortitude, strongly backed as he was by his family."

UUP MLA Tom Elliott said he would remember Mr Foster as a very loyal and true friend to his country and the people of Fermanagh, to the Ulster Unionist Party and to him personally.

"He was dedicated to his work - you only have to ask anyone who worked in a Department or Agency to acknowledge his craft as a politician and as a constituency representative.

"His same masterly work was evident as one of the ministers in the newly formed Northern Ireland Executive following the 1998 Belfast Agreement, where he was competent and enthusiastic in that role, during very challenging times and when confronted by aggressive opposition."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "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."

DUP minister Arlene Foster paid tribute to a very dear uncle.

She 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."

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