The Democratic Unionist Party’s Arlene Foster is the leader of the largest party in Northern Ireland and has been since December 2015. She has also been a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for Fermanagh and South Tyrone since 2003. Foster has held many roles in government including Minister of Environment, Minister for Enterprise Investment and Minister for Finance and Personel. She became the First Minister of Northern Ireland in January 2017, her deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness resigned from his post in January the following year.
Arlene Foster graduated with an LLB from Queen’s University Belfast where she also joined the Queen’s Unionist Association during her studies, which is part of the Ulster Unionist Party. She went on to chair the party’s youth wing. She then resigned from the party in 2004 and joined the DUP and was selected as the party’s candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
Foster caused controversy when she called Dublin’s centenary celebrations of the 1916 uprising against British rule “an attack on democracy”. The most controversy has been attached to the Renewable Heat Inventive scheme after it overspent by £400 million which caused many to label it the Cash for Ash scandal. It is what caused McGuiness to step down as deputy First Minister.
The UK’s departure from the EU has raised concerns over free movement and trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, with Foster indicating that there will be no return to “the borders of the past” – a reference to the armed checkpoints along the Irish border during 30 years of violent conflict known as ‘The Troubles’.
Foster’s party supported the Theresa May’s Conservative Party in forming a government, which in effect placed Arlene Foster in a position of undeniable power.
The unionist leader has expressed issues with the draft bill proposed by the Conservative Party, and wants Northern Irish lawmakers to be more involved in the negotiation process.