Arlene Foster in pledge to ‘make NI great again’

Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster. Photo: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster. Photo: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

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Arlene Foster is expected to be confirmed as DUP leader Peter Robinson’s successor on Thursday night, pledging to lead Northern Ireland “into an even better place”.

The current finance minister is the sole nominee to take over the post when Mr Robinson steps down on January 11.

Mrs Foster said she will have “her own style and vision” for the party, but will keep faith in its structures she believes serve the country well.

The MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone has witnessed IRA terrorism first-hand - her RUC officer father was shot and wounded on the family farm, and a bomb damaged the school bus she was travelling on - but she said it will be possible to share power with Sinn Fein for the good of Northern Ireland.

“There can be few people in Northern Ireland who grew up during the Troubles who were not acutely aware of politics.

“My own personal experience has obviously shaped my views but my involvement in politics was not based solely as a reaction to the IRA terrorist campaign, but on the firm belief that the Union is good for Northern Ireland, a desire to strengthen that link and to make Northern Ireland the best it can be.

“I love this country. We only have to look at the sporting world to see the success this small place has on the global stage. I want to make Northern Ireland great again.”

Mr Robinson, 66, announced his intention to resign as both DUP leader and first minister last month, within days of signing a deal with Sinn Fein and the British and Irish governments to stabilise the Stormont power-sharing administration.

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson had backed Nigel Dodds as the new leader and had considered standing himself once Mr Dodds dropped out of the running.

Mrs Foster went to say: “It is an enormous honour to be supported by colleagues to take on the leadership of the party. It obviously represents a new chapter in my life and for the party. I’m relishing the challenge and looking forward to leading Northern Ireland into an even better place.”

On Wednesday Mrs Foster joined Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness on a visit to meet the first of the Syrian refugees to arrive in Belfast.

Afterwards, she said: “Today’s visit gave us the opportunity to properly welcome our new families to Northern Ireland and assure them how valued they are as members of our community as they start their new lives here. We will continue to make every effort possible to ensure that these families receive the help they need to feel settled and safe.”

• Remarried widows or widowers of Civil Service pension scheme members could have their pensions reinstated under a proposal put forward by Arlene Foster.

The Finance Minister has launched a public consultation on a change that would benefit those who were married to prison officers and police officers, as well as civil servants.

Ms Foster said: “It is right and just that the spouses of those who have given so much for Northern Ireland, particularly prison officers, should continue to receive their pension, and not be penalised for living their lives.

“In the coming months, my officials will make contact with the widows and widowers from their records that may be eligible for this reinstatement. The proposal is for payments to be made from April 2016 onwards”.

Ms Foster said the cost of the scheme will be met by employers, and added: “It is right and just that the spouses of those who have given so much for Northern Ireland, particularly prison officers, should continue to receive their pension, and not be penalised for living their lives. The costs of this change will be very minimal and will be spread over many years.”

Urging interested parties to engage with the consultation process, the minister said: “This is an important and emotive issue. I would encourage anyone who has interest in my proposed changes to make their views known, including widows and widowers impacted by the current rules, pensioner representatives groups, Trade Unions and employers.”

Further information about the consultation can be found here