Important time for Northern Ireland as Arlene Foster becomes first female First Minister
The Taoiseach Enda Kenny led Irish congratulations to Northern Ireland’s new First Minister Arlene Foster on Monday and wished her every success in her new role, which, he said, she takes on at an important time for Northern Ireland.
Ms Foster is the first woman to hold the post as she takes over from Peter Robinson who is stepping down for health reasons. Because of this the offices of both First Minister and Deputy First Minister had to go before a vote of Assembly members.
Mr. Kenny said he looked forward to continuing to work with her to meet challenges and develop opportunities to benefit all communities across the island of Ireland.
He said Arlene Foster had proved herself to be highly effective in her roles as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment and Minister for Finance and Personnel and he was certain she would continue to work hard for the people of Northern Ireland as she takes on the huge responsibility of the First Minister role.
The Taoiseach said he also looked forward to continuing to work with Martin McGuinness who was today re-appointed as deputy First Minister.
He also paid tribute to Ms Foster’s predecessor Peter Robinson, thanking him for his very significant contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process and wishing him many happy years of retirement with his family as he stepped down as First Minister. Taking up the post on Monday Ms Foster told Assembly colleagues that it was her legal duty and a “moral imperative” to serve everyone in Northern Ireland not just Unionist voters.
Pledge of office
Ms Foster was formally elected as First Minister and Martin McGuinness was returned as Deputy First Minister after they both affirmed the pledge of office to work the power sharing institutions including the North-South bodies.
She said she pledged to do all in her power to “change the political culture of this place” and move it away from the constant bickering with which it had become so synonymous. She said she was particularly proud that not only was she the first woman, but, at 45, she was also the youngest, to hold such a senior post in the government of Northern Ireland. Mr McGuinness said he was confident that he and Ms Foster would work well together in a constructive and positive leadership and with a “good heart”.
Mr Robinson in a short speech to the Assembly paid tribute to Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and said both of them had stood shoulder to shoulder after dissident republican killings such as those of British soldiers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey, PSNI officer Ronan Kerr and prison officer David Black which any other time might have destabilised the institutions.
“Strangely we were at our strongest when the threat from outside to the institutions was at its greatest,” he said, which was the “surest sign” that Northern Ireland was “never going back to the dark days of the past”.
Mr McGuinness, who enjoyed a very warm relationship with Mr. Robinson’s predecessor the Reverend Ian Paisley, said he first began working with Mr Robinson when he was appointed First Minister in 2008.
Mr Robinson said to him then that “no matter what happens on the streets we must ensure that these institutions don’t collapse”.
He said they had faced many “huge challenges” but had come through with the institutions intact. Mr McGuinness said he was sure his friendship with Mr. Robinson, like that he enjoyed with Dr. Paisley, would last a lifetime.