There will be no honeymoon period, Foster told

New First Minister Arlene Foster
New First Minister Arlene Foster

Northern Ireland’s new First Minister must hit the ground running, the devolved Assembly has been told.

Minutes after being appointed to the top job at Stormont, Arlene Foster was confronted with calls to tackle flooding problems which have left parts of her Fermanagh constituency submerged for weeks.

Colm Eastwood, the newly appointed SDLP leader, said: “There will be no honeymoon period.”

At 45 years old, Mrs Foster, a married mother of three, becomes the first female and youngest MLA to hold the office of First Minister.

Mike Nesbitt, whose Ulster Unionist Party pulled out of the power-sharing Executive in the wake of an IRA-linked murder of a man in Belfast last August, offered congratulations on her “personal achievement” but cautioned of the difficult times ahead.

He said: “Mrs Foster has the baton and we await to see what sort of music she can squeeze out of the discordant Executive.”

Sinn Fein’s Education Minister John O’Dowd said she would require determination to face down the enemies of the peace process and spoke of the loneliness of leadership.

He told MLAs: “There are many enemies of the peace process in society and all do not wear balaclavas.”

Mrs Foster’s Democratic Unionist Party colleagues described her “feisty and fiery” personality but hailed her political mind and drive as well as her “love” for Northern Ireland.

Employment Minister Stephen Farry, who attended Queen’s University in Belfast when Mrs Foster was studying law during the turbulent 1980s, described her appointment as “historic”.

Independent MLA Clare Sugden said she hoped young women would be inspired by Mrs Foster, whom she described as a “great politician”.

“This is an incredible day. I am inspired and I hope all young women will be inspired,” she said.

Although there has been a generational shift in politics John McAllister, South Down independent unionist MLA, said the new First Minister and her deputy faced some old problems.

He said: “The challenge is to end the us and them in our politics and our society.”