Sam Foster’s former ministerial adviser has told how the Enniskillen bomb survivor was determined to work fairly with republicans, despite what they had done to his home town.
Stephen Barr, who was the then environment minister’s special adviser in the first Assembly after the Belfast Agreement, said that his former boss was “decent, solid, loyal and fair”.
Mr Foster, who died on Tuesday, will be buried tomorrow after a funeral service in St Macartin’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Enniskillen at 2pm.
Mr Barr was his adviser from January 2001 until the minister stepped down the following year due to Parkinson’s disease. He said that the then minister’s medical condition was “a fairly well kept secret” of which he was aware and that the condition had frustrated Mr Foster.
Mr Barr told the News Letter: “He said to me once that he wished the job had come to him earlier because he felt he could have done more with it. That was typical Sam — it was never about personal ambition, but about doing the job right.”
Mr Barr said that the former UDR major was very proud to have been made a minister as he had “fairly humble origins”.
“Sam didn’t come from the landed Fermangh gentry — he lived in the Derrychara estate in Enniskillen. He knew where he came from and he was very proud of his people.”
Mr Barr said that although the Enniskillen bomb had “definitely affected” Mr Foster and he had lost good friends in uniform during the Troubles, he had insisted on dealing with Sinn Fein MLAs in a straightforward manner.
“I thought he was quite a gruff person when I first met him, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. He was such a friendly man — very fair, very decent, and he dealt with Sinn Fein like he dealt with anybody else. It wasn’t quite that he trusted them, but he was prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.
“In 2000 and 2001 there were all sorts of questions about the long-term viability of the project and about whether Sinn Fein were serious, but he was clear that he was in government and he was someone who was trying to genuinely do his best for everyone.
“Sam was the sort of minister you need. He was the epitome of a good Ulster Unionist. There has to be room for those people in politics.”