Thatcher a major influence on my leadership, says Arlene Foster

Northern Ireland’s First Minister gives Harri Holkeri lecture on women and peace-building

Arlene Foster: “When I am asked to articulate the significance of a woman being Northern Ireland’s First Minister, I am often reminded of Margaret Thatcher [above] who famously remarked, ‘If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman’.” File photograph: PA Wire

Arlene Foster: “When I am asked to articulate the significance of a woman being Northern Ireland’s First Minister, I am often reminded of Margaret Thatcher [above] who famously remarked, ‘If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman’.” File photograph: PA Wire

 

DUP First Minister Arlene Foster has spoken of how women such as late former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth and a protestant missionary shot by Congolese bandits influenced her as a political leader.

In delivering the fourth annual Harri Holkeri lecture on the subject of women, leadership and peace-building at Queen’s University, Belfast on Monday evening, Ms Foster said leadership transcends masculine or feminine labels.

Nonetheless, the DUP leader did draw some gender distinctions.

“When I am asked to articulate the significance of a woman being Northern Ireland’s First Minister, I am often reminded of Margaret Thatcher who famously remarked, ‘If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman’.”

Ms Foster was delivering the lecture in memory of late Finnish prime minister Harri Holkeri, who had played a part in building the Irish peace process.

Ms Foster said the concept of leadership goes beyond gender tags. “Effective leaders, male or female, seek to implement their visions, vary their behaviours contingent upon situational requirements and in general grapple successfully with the ever-changing and complex internal and external demands upon their organisation,” she said.

Membership of the Girl Guides, she said, “as well as gifting me laughter, lifelong friendships and great memories, it built my confidence. It boosted my self-belief and my self-esteem.”

Divided opinion

She again referred to the influence of Ms Thatcher, “who divided opinion but defined leadership”.

“I can’t help but have a great admiration for a formidable woman who thrived in a man’s world,” she said.

“I am also a keen royalist and, again, whether you are fans of the monarchy or not, no one can argue with Her Majesty The Queen’s pedigree when it comes to leadership.

“Queen Elizabeth II may be small in stature, but even now at 90 years of age she remains a towering presence. She is humble and yet inspires great pride.”

Ms Foster also paid tribute to missionary midwife Maud Kells, who last year survived a gun attack in Africa.

“For nearly 50 years, Maud lived and worked as a missionary in Congo, training local people in nursing. Despite being shot by bandits at the age of 75, she continues her work there, leading local people in faith and leading them in the provision of care,” she said.

“From Maud in particular, I see elements of leadership which I will certainly try to emulate - the strength of the relationship between leader and followers; to lead through example, commitment, energy, belief and ambition; and to transform through collaboration.”

Positive on future

Notwithstanding the current difficulties over who will be the North’s next Minister for Justice and the decision of the Ulster Unionist Party and SDLP to go into official opposition, Ms Foster was positive about the political future.

She said almost certainly there would be more stumbling blocks to be overcome. “But as Margaret Thatcher once said, sometimes ‘you have to fight a battle more than once to win it’. She was right. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy.”

As part of Queen’s University’s spring festival of events, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern next Tuesday will deliver a lecture under the same series entitled Reflections on Peace in a Changed Ireland.