Arlene Foster softens position on marking Easter Rising
New First Minister takes pride in being first woman and youngest person in leadership role
DUP leader Arlene Foster at Stormont after becoming the new Northern Ireland First Minister. “I don’t think a lot of people in Northern Ireland are concerned with what happened in 1916; they are more concerned with what is going to happen in 2016.” Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Arlene Foster, who has been formally elected as the North’s First Minister, has modified her position on refusing to attend Easter Rising commemorations in the Republic. Ms Foster caused controversy when, in recent days, she said she would not travel to events marking the centenary of the 1916 Rising, leading Taoiseach Enda Kenny to yesterday express his disappointment at her stance.
He said the events were “put together in a very sensitive, comprehensive, inclusive way” and pointed out how in recent years he travelled to the annual Remembrance Day commemorations in Enniskillen in Ms Foster’s home constituency of Fermanagh-South Tyrone.
“There are people of the nationalist persuasion in Northern Ireland who have attended at many sensitive issues,” said Mr Kenny, who also congratulated Ms Foster on her election.
Ms Foster, in an interview with The Irish Times yesterday, said: “Enda shouldn’t be surprised that I wouldn’t go to a commemoration in Dublin in and around that issue” as she believed the Rising gave “succour” to violent republicanism. She, however, softened her position by saying she would be happy to travel to the South to attend a conference or symposium to discuss Easter 1916.
“Will I go and discuss historical significance, will I go and have other conversations about what happened in 1916? Yes, I will of course,” she said. I very much enjoy looking at history and looking at what happened in the past.
“I have to say I don’t think a lot of people in Northern Ireland are concerned with what happened in 1916; they are more concerned with what is going to happen in 2016, to be honest with you. However, I have no difficulty going to a symposium and having a conversation about what happened then.”
After her election yesterday as First Minister, Ms Foster (45) said she took great pride in the fact she was the first woman and the youngest person to hold the post. She also said she saw it not only as her legal duty but a “moral imperative” to serve everyone in Northern Ireland.
Ms Foster said she was tired of Stormont “being a watchword for arguing and bickering” and pledged to do all in her power to “change the political culture of this place”. She wanted accommodation with one another rather than conflict.
She believed that as a woman and a mother, she could bring a pragmatic dimension to Northern politics. “I think I bring a very practical aspect to the role because I think most mums are quite practical and they know what has to be done each day of the week.”
Ms Foster paid tribute to members of the British army and police who died in the Troubles and remembered those who suffered as a result of the violence. She also honoured the memory of her late father, Johnny Kelly, who, as an RUC officer when she was young, was wounded in an IRA attack.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in congratulating Ms Foster acknowledged the “hurt” her family had “endured as a result of the conflict”. He expressed confidence that he and Ms Foster would work well together in a constructive and positive leadership and with a “good heart”.