IN her first week in the top job in the North of Ireland, Arlene Foster has caused controversy by describing the Irish fight for independence from Britain as “a very violent attack on the state”.
The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA, who was formally appointed as the North of Ireland’s leader on Monday said the Easter 1916 Rising “gave succour to violent republicanism”.
Ms Foster, 45, who was named Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader after Peter Robinson announced his retirement in November 2015, began her role in one of Britain’s biggest political jobs after several weeks as First Minister in waiting.
She comes to power while the North’s main parties work on implementing the Fresh Start Agreement, which will tackle issues such as flag protests, paramilitary activity and devolution, and ahead of an Assembly election in May.
Ms Foster is the first female leader of the North of Ireland — and the youngest ever head of state.
In November of last year, her predecessor Peter Robinson announced he would be stepping down from the role.
Robinson’s move came shortly after a war of words between Sinn Féin and the DUP resulted in a 10-week political lockdown which was later resolved.
Foster is expected to continue on the same political path as Mr Robinson — the pair hold similar values on many of the most contentious issues in the North.
The day before Foster formally took hold of the reins she rattled her opponents in a radio interview with BBC Northern Ireland by saying she would not attend any of the events taking place this year to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising.
Speaking late last week Ms Foster called the Easter Rising “a very violent attack on the state”.
Sinn Féin’s national chairman Declan Kearney disagreed, saying that the Easter Rising was “democratic” — and that commemorations will be inclusive.
“All of these commemorations should be inclusive and respectful,” he told The Irish Post.
“They can and should be harnessed as a real opportunity to develop a shared culture of commemoration in our society.
“The Proclamation of the Irish Republic is one of the most revolutionary documents from the period and it is every bit as relevant today 100 years later.”
Ms Foster will continue to work with the “fundamental values” of the conservative DUP party, she said when her leadership was announced in December – in particular, remaining in the union with Britain.
“We will never resile from our belief that Northern Ireland is best served being part of the Union,” she said when her DUP leadership was announced.
“But unionism is about all of us and not anyone alone. It is about everyone working together as one, for the greater good, to build a Northern Ireland we can all be proud of.”
Her views on homosexuality also align with the DUP’s conservative values, with the party, including Ms Foster, most recently blocking a vote to legalise same-sex marriage in November 2015.
Ms Foster’s formal appointment as First Minister took place in Stormont on January 11 —where Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin was also re-appointed as Deputy First Minister.
Her rise to power comes at a busy time for Stormont.
Last year’s Fresh Start Agreement is going to be a major point of focus in 2016 — with the DUP and Sinn Féin pledging to work together to combat paramilitary activity in the North of Ireland and build a shared future for the unionist and nationalist communities.
The Northern Ireland Assembly could also see a reshuffle in the coming months, as the Government prepares for the Assembly election in May of this year.
Both Prime Minister David Cameron and Taoiseach Enda Kenny were among the first to offer their congratulations to Foster.
Mr Kenny wished her every success in developing “opportunities to benefit all communities across the island of Ireland.”
While David Cameron offered his congratulations on social media site Twitter.