New First Minister Arlene Foster vows to keep NI ‘moving forward’

First Minster Arlene Foster
First Minster Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster has spoken of her desire to keep “Northern Ireland moving forward” as she prepares to take over as First Minister on Monday morning.

The DUP MLA will vacate her position as Finance Minister to replace Peter Robinson as head of the NI Executive, having already taken over from him as DUP leader.

New first minister for Northern Ireland Arlene Foster

New first minister for Northern Ireland Arlene Foster

The 45-year-old mother-of-three is the first woman to hold either position.

She was formally selected as leader at a meeting of the party’s elected representatives last month after Mr Robinson announced his decision to stand down.

At the time Mrs Foster, who was the sole candidate, said it was “truly humbling to follow in the footsteps of political giants like Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson”.

She has twice held the role of acting First Minister, firstly when Mr Robinson temporarily stepped aside in 2010 and again in September last year.

On the eve of taking up her new role, Mrs Foster recalled some traumatic times from her childhood, but said the past must not be allowed to jeopardise future stability.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” she said.

“People want to see Northern Ireland moving forward. Parents want to see jobs for their children so they don’t have to leave our shores in search of work.

“As a parent with three children at school, I share that desire. We’ve already brought 40,000 new jobs to Northern Ireland but we’ve more to do.

“I remember the bomb going off in our school bus like it was yesterday. I remember my father crawling through the door into our kitchen like it was yesterday. He’d been shot by the PIRA. I will not allow a rewriting of our past but I will also not allow our past to hold us back either.

“We’ve an opportunity to build a better future for our children and the next generation. That’s what I’m about.”

Mrs Foster added: “Too often we look at the here and now. We look at the past but let’s look to the future. What type of Northern Ireland do we want our children to inherit?

“I want my children to live in a Northern Ireland where there is peace and where those working hard earn a decent living. Northern Ireland can be better and I want to lead us forward to better days.”

On Sunday, the new First Minister said she would not attend any events to commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Calling the rebellion a “very violent attack on the state,” Mrs Foster said it had given “succour to violent republicanism,” but added: “People are nuanced enough to know that I am very open and will represent democratic nationalists and democratic unionists in Northern Ireland. I certainly will not be representing violent republicanism.”

Speaking to Radio Ulster’s Sunday News programme, she said she was looking forward to “negotiating and planning for the future”.