NI politicians must stay in touch with the people - Foster

First Minister wants to take Northern Executive politics out of the Stormont bubble

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said she wants to set "a new tone" in Northern Irish politics in her first speech to business people in the region since she was appointed First Minister.

She told the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce on Thursday that she wants to move Northern Executive politics beyond the realms of Stormont, it "being the centre of the political universe in Northern Ireland".

Politicians must remain grounded and in touch with the people who elected them to Stormont, she added.

“I believe that politics should be a feature of every town and every community and that our elected representatives should get out and meet local people in their own constituencies,” said Ms Foster in her address in the W5 science exhibition centre.


“That is why one of the first suggestions that I made to the Deputy First Minister was that before the elections in May, we should take Executive meetings outside Belfast, and we have agreed to hold meetings in Fermanagh and Londonderry in the coming weeks,” she said.

‘Turbulent times’

Ms Foster said that as progress had been made during “turbulent political times, just imagine what we can do if we all work together all of the time”.

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Despite the scars I still have from the past, the only way forward is to put aside those personal challenges and difficulties for the good of the wider community.

“We must make this a better place for the next generation than it was for the last one,” she added.

Ms Foster also spoke of her hopes for creating a more benign and productive form of politics, even with Assembly elections coming up in May.

She said she wanted to use her First Minister’s role “not just to inspire and encourage but to set a new tone in politics”.

“I know that the period coming up to an election is perhaps not the best time to change the way we have been doing politics, but I do think we can do things better.”

Ms Foster said that since 2007, when the DUP and Sinn Féin agreed to work in a powersharing administration, “stable and lasting” government had been established, notwithstanding criticism of how devolution had operated.

‘Unimaginable pain’

She said the North had “come through unimaginable pain and suffering over many decades”, but was now facing into a better future.

She quoted east Belfast writer C S Lewis to support her argument that progress has been achieved: “Isn’t it funny that day by day nothing seems to change, but when you look back everything is different.”

Said Ms Foster: “I believe that we are old enough to know that we must never go back to the past but young enough that our ambition and our excitement about the future is not clouded by the experience of the past.”

She also told the business people that as a young girl, one of her inspirations had been the late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. "For me and for many other young women at that time, she inspired us and said to us we could go ahead and be whatever we wanted to be."

Clear vision

The First Minister said that every political leader must have a clear vision of what they want to achieve. “Growing the Northern Ireland economy remains the number one priority of the Executive.

“This requires leadership not just from politicians but from everyone with entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen,” she said.

“Northern Ireland has become a place where we can celebrate our culture and respect that of others. By working together, government can reform and work for the good of all our people - and I will work with everyone to make sure this happens.”