Declan Lawn examines new first minister Arlene Foster's rise from a childhood during the Troubles to the top of the country's political establishment.
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SPOTLIGHT NIC B799A/01 BRD000000
Arlene Foster has risen to the top of politics in Northern Ireland,
to a job she never expected to have.
As a young girl growing up in rural Fermanagh,
the most westerly constituency in the whole of the United Kingdom,
in the days when we were plagued by terrorism,
I could not have dreamt that I would be in this position today.
Is it any wonder that, in politics, I believe nothing is impossible?
And if politics really is the art of the possible,
the speech from Martin McGuinness
shows just how much has changed here.
I am very conscious that Arlene's mother
and her husband and children are here today,
and I also acknowledge the hurt that their family endured
as a result of the conflict.
But only a few people know that for the First and Deputy First Ministers, it's personal.
That's because of a painful connection between them
stretching back over 30 years.
Do you think you know the identity
-of the person who tried to kill your father?
-Yes, I do. Yeah.
And he is no longer about.
And Martin McGuinness spoke at his funeral?
Tonight on Spotlight, we're with the First Minister
during her first month in office,
looking at the experiences that formed her.
I closed my eyes, I just didn't know what was going on.
Then there was about two or three seconds silence,
and then everybody started to scream.
Were you traumatised by that bomb attack?
I was, yes.
And getting to the heart of who she really is.
When you think about bullying me, think again.
I think we need to send clear messages out
that paramilitarism, wherever it comes from
there's no place for it here in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein have been shown to be economically illiterate, yet again, yet again.
And I think the BBC need to answer why they feel the need to continue
with their negativity and their parasitical nature,
and I think it is very disappointing.
Do you have a temper?
-Right now, the time is half past eight.
Let's get a summary of the news from Anne-Marie.
As we've been hearing, David Bowie has died.
In Toomebridge, one lane of the A6 Hillhead Road
remains closed towards Castledawson...
The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, will formally take over as First Minister
at Stormont later today.
January 11th. It's Arlene Foster's first day as First Minister.
For the next few weeks, she is allowing us behind the scenes
and she's agreed to take part in a number of interviews.
-First Minister, congratulations.
-Thank you, thank you.
-Well done. How has it been today?
-Well, it's all been...
-Is it a bit surreal?
-It is a bit surreal, I have to say.
-It must be.
It's been lovely. I've just had lunch with my mum and the family.
-She must be very proud.
-Yes, she is. It's lovely to have her here,
she's in her 80s now, so it's great that she could come up.
Fantastic. So this is it, this is the office.
No, well, this is Finance actually.
-Right, OK, so you haven't moved yet?
-Haven't moved yet.
So that all has to be... that all has to be done now.
Before she even gets comfortable at the First Minister's desk,
Arlene Foster has to meet the media.
When the elections do come, what's your ambition for
the Ulster Unionist Party? Is it about their destruction?
Effectively, you've made up your minds
that EU membership is not good for Northern Ireland.
Your relationship with Martin McGuinness
is going to be of critical importance in future.
Just one final question - favourite Bowie track?
Oh, it has to be Let's Dance.
It's 9am the next morning, and Arlene Foster is in Lisburn
on her first official engagement as First Minister.
I brought the weather with me, unfortunately.
And one of the things she is going to have to get used to
is the escalated level of media scrutiny and media interest.
It's a different level to when she was a Minister.
And already she has to handle her first minor controversy.
In the Assembly, the day before, her party colleague, Edwin Poots,
made a statement that some consider to be sexist.
But in congratulating Arlene on her elevation to First Minister,
I would say that is the second most important job
that she will ever take on.
Her most important job has been and will remain
that of a wife, a mother, a daughter.
Do you feel that there is a kind of
double expectation on you in this position?
Well, you know, I think if you look at some of the media questions
yesterday, you could say the same of those as well.
They wouldn't be asked of a man either, but you know,
I'm not really focusing on that. I'm focusing on the job ahead.
Is it a sexist thing to ask?
Look, I understand that people are interested in that aspect,
because I am the first female First Minister.
How do you balance that?
The reality is, of course, that I have been a busy solicitor
before I became a politician, so I have always been working,
so there's always been a need to balance a work with family.
Arlene Foster has only been in power for 24 hours.
But, already, she is learning that as First Minister,
she'll be expected to have an answer for everything.
Sam McBride is the political correspondent of the Newsletter.
On her first day in office, he interviewed her.
That's a departure in itself.
Peter Robinson had refused to speak to the Newsletter
for several months.
Arlene Foster, certainly in this phase of her leadership,
has shown herself, I think, very deliberately
to be much more approachable, much more relaxed,
much more affable and engaging.
It will be interesting to see
whether that is something she can manage to hold on to
as the pressure begins to come on during an election campaign.
Do you ever get the sense that she is an unlikely DUP leader?
I mean, she's from a Church of Ireland background,
she's from the west of the province, she's a woman.
It seems that, in all of these ways, she is very different
to what has gone before. How did she get there, do you think?
She got there because the DUP changed.
If she had been in the DUP 20 years ago,
she obviously would not have had a hope of becoming leader, I think,
because it was very much more aligned
to the Free Presbyterian Church.
One of Arlene Foster's challenges in her new job
is to make the DUP appeal to a broad range of voters,
whilst reassuring its evangelical, conservative, religious wing.
One organisation which espouses that mind-set is the Caleb Foundation,
an evangelical lobby group.
Gregory Campbell and Nelson McCausland have expressed sympathy
with the views of the Caleb Foundation.
And Mervyn Storey is a member of its council.
It's committed to promoting the literal truth of the Bible,
including creationism, which teaches
that the world was created by God 6,000 years ago, in six days.
The Foundation successfully lobbied to have that view included
in the exhibition at the Giant's Causeway.
Arlene Foster is not a member.
Are you a creationist?
You know, I have been asked this question many times and, actually,
when I joined the party, some people asked me
was I also joining the church?
And that was a fundamental misunderstanding.
We have to see the Bible in the context
of the scientific developments.
I take as my leader, the way in which Her Majesty the Queen
is a Low Anglican is something that is very akin
to the way in which I worship as well.
Can you see why some people might become concerned
when there is an organisation that seeks to promote
the literal truth of the Bible in legislation?
I mean, there is just no separation there.
Well, they are not...
That is not the DUP, the Caleb Organisation
um, is an organisation that exists
to lobby and to promote their beliefs.
And they are perfectly entitled to do that.
Her balancing act can be seen on day two with her Cabinet reshuffle.
The party officers and myself have come to the decision to appoint
Mervyn Storey as Finance Minister.
Putting Mervyn Storey into Finance,
a very important member of the Caleb Foundation,
but a party loyalist,
was an ingenious piece of management.
And the signal that she was sending to her party there was,
"Don't worry about your new female, Church of Ireland, ex-UUP leader,
"I'm going to respect this party's traditions."
In public, she appears to be a deft political operator.
But I'd heard that, behind the scenes,
the real Arlene Foster has a short fuse.
It's said by people who have spent an awful lot more time
with her than I have that she has a fearsome temper.
I know that Arlene Foster has a bit of a temper.
I have received some letters in responses to columns from her,
but I have read them thinking, you know,
maybe you should have calmed down before you wrote this.
-That she was being too sensitive, basically?
-Do you have a temper?
-People tell me I do have a temper, yes.
So that's something you would admit?
Is it something you think you need to rein in or control,
you know, as First Minister?
Um, it's funny you should say that,
because I've been thinking about that,
and when a woman, er...
has passion in her voice
and feels that she wants to say something quite strong
about an issue, um, she's "emotional".
But if a man was to do a similar speech or to say something similar,
he would be "passionate" about an issue.
So I think there is a difference in how women are perceived.
Is it sexist of me to ask about temperament?
Well, it is, a little. But it doesn't annoy me.
I do think there is a difference
in the way in which women are perceived in politics.
As Arlene Foster said earlier, getting to this top job
is the culmination of a very long journey,
and one that is probably going to take some time to sink in.
But that journey started, and her political consciousness was formed,
in County Fermanagh, where she was born and where she grew up.
So, what can her past tell us about the kind of First Minister
she might turn out to be?
-This deceptive landscape has been the setting
for a series of vicious sectarian murders and reprisals.
The borderlands of rural Fermanagh.
By the time Arlene Foster was born in 1970, Protestants and Unionists
living here were already beginning to feel under siege.
As the Troubles began in earnest, these border areas witnessed
an exodus of Protestant families.
Harold Andrews was one of Arlene Foster's neighbours,
and one of those who refused to leave.
There was an ethnic cleansing culture going on at the time,
at night, especially in the winter time, anyway,
you went in and you locked the door and you never went out,
sort of thing, after dark, so you didn't.
I was asked would I not consider leaving the area,
by senior policemen.
So the police advised you to leave?
The police had asked me, would I not consider leaving the area.
And why didn't you?
Well, there had been five generations of Andrews
in this particular area
and I said the only way I was going to be leaving
would be in a box, to my local graveyard.
Arlene Foster, or Arlene Kelly, as she was then,
lived just two miles down the road from here.
Her father, John Kelly, was a constable in the RUC.
In this area in the late 1970s,
that made him a huge target for the IRA.
Arlene Foster says that, until about the age of eight,
she knew nothing about the Troubles,
knew nothing about political violence,
until the night in January 1979 when the IRA came
to the family's isolated rural farmstead
just up here outside Rosslea, and tried to murder her father.
This is the original Kelly family homestead.
The attack happened just here.
Now, John Kelly, Arlene's father, had a nightly ritual.
He would come out of the front door of his house just here
and walk just a couple of metres to here.
This used to be a cow shed.
And he would check that his animals
were securely locked in for the night.
But on this particular January night, just as he put his hand
on the lock, two IRA men who were hidden behind a hedge
a couple of metres down there, opened up with automatic rifles.
The very first shot grazed John Kelly on the head
and he immediately dropped to the ground.
And the many subsequent shots apparently riddled the cow shed behind him.
My father came crawling in and he was bleeding,
and he told us all to go upstairs, because in his bedroom
there were flares which had been fitted in case of an emergency,
and he put the flares off.
And we were all lying on the bedroom floor.
And, um, I think it was less than ten minutes later
the police arrived,
and, obviously, my father had to go to hospital after that.
That must've felt like a very long ten minutes, though.
It was a very long ten minutes. A very long ten minutes.
The family came to believe
that someone from the local Catholic community
had provided the information that led to the targeting of John Kelly.
This is the insidious thing at that time.
If they were to operate, they needed information
about individuals, and so that information
had to be given by somebody local, you know?
And so you started to think, well, who was it that set you up?
The family had little choice but to move to the nearby town of Lisnaskea.
Aged 11, Arlene Kelly went
to Collegiate Girls Grammar School in Enniskillen.
Kate Doherty was her careers teacher.
I actually still have the careers record that we kept.
From the very outset,
Arlene made it clear that her interests
were in areas like law and politics.
Collegiate Grammar School in the 1980s didn't escape the Troubles.
Over the years, I couldn't tell you how many funerals
I attended, of usually the fathers of girls.
Fathers who'd served in the forces in some capacity.
Then, in November 1987,
came an event that would traumatise many pupils and teachers.
-A terrorist bomb kills 11 in Northern Ireland,
timed to coincide with a Remembrance Day ceremony.
53 others were injured, including many children.
Arlene Kelly wasn't there that day. But many of her friends were.
Of course, Marie Wilson, who had been a deputy head girl
at the Collegiate had been murdered.
They lived actually very close to school,
so it was all very...close.
The next day at school...
..it was very surreal. It was very quiet
and just a dreadful, dreadful time,
watching the multiple funerals taking place.
But for Arlene Kelly, the worst was still to come.
A few months later, when she was still just 17,
the IRA bombed her school bus.
The IRA risked a dozen young lives in their attempt to kill the driver,
a part-time member of the Ulster Defence Regiment.
I closed my eyes.
I just didn't know what was going on
and there was about two or three seconds' silence.
Then everybody started to scream.
And I got up and said, "Don't panic, don't panic."
One of her friends was seriously injured.
The two girls had been sitting side by side.
This was one of the seminal moments of Arlene Kelly's life.
Instead of creating division, the IRA bomb has united the people
in whose hands Northern Ireland's future lies.
Were you traumatised by that bomb attack?
I was, yes. I had nightmares and what have you after it.
It did have an impact on me.
Obviously, I remember it very clearly,
in terms of the bomb going off, the silence,
which I felt lasted for longer than obviously it did
after the bomb went off.
Would you describe yourself at any time as having been...
bitter about what you saw when you were growing up?
I have no doubt I was bitter when I was a teenager.
It was a very difficult thing to have to deal with in a young mind.
-So I've no doubt that was the case.
-Have you changed?
Goodness, I hope I have changed. I hope I have matured.
I hope I realise what was going on and that the vast majority of people
were not involved in that sort of thing.
Do you remember doing an interview with Jeremy Paxman
when you were, I think, 16, just after the bombing?
-I would have been 17.
-You were 17. Lower sixth, maybe.
It was you and a young woman called Madonna Murphy.
-Yes, I do remember Madonna.
-Who was one of the Catholic girls.
It's just quite interesting in terms of what it said about division then.
Maybe the division that still exists.
'Madonna, can I ask you this? It's sometimes a bit hard for us
'over on this side of the water to understand.'
-Young Jeremy Paxman.
-Young Jeremy Paxman.
Young Arlene Foster, as well.
-I don't remember this at all.
-'What is the effect on Enniskillen of incidents like this?'
It makes you realise it can't go on.
You feel as if you have to do something...
to improve relations between Catholics and Protestants.
But surely relations are pretty good.
You two are friends, are you not?
We're not enemies, but I suppose we never really talk to each other.
But we will from now on.
Yeah, we always sat apart.
In fact, everybody sits apart on our bus.
'And are you going to change that now, Arlene?'
Well, I think it's up to the whole bus to change it.
In fact, it's up to all young people of Northern Ireland
to change the way, and what is happening,
to turn against the men of violence.
Thank you both very much for joining us. Thank you.
What is your first reaction to that?
Well, my first reaction is I don't remember that interview, actually.
-So I've managed to surprise you?
-You have managed to surprise me.
Absolutely. I hadn't remembered that at all.
Jeremy Paxman asked you there, "Will you change this?"
and you said, "Well, it's up to everyone to change it."
Can you remember what happened after that? Did you still sit apart?
We did still sit apart, I have to say.
What struck me about what Madonna said, was
Paxman says, "Are you friends?" And she says, "We're not enemies."
And...I was wondering, is that maybe the best we can hope for?
No, I don't think that's the best we can hope for
and I know that children across the divide,
regardless of where we are in Northern Ireland,
have very strong friendships in a way that we didn't have.
I mean, you have to remember, on this bus -
and this is another vivid memory for me -
when a UDR part-time soldier was murdered in Derrylin,
a man called Jimmy Graham,
I was only, I think, 13, 14 at the time...
..and the young Catholics on the bus that day were cheering.
You know, because a man had been murdered.
And that's the sort of life we were living at that time
so it should be of no surprise that there was a difficulty
at that time between children from different backgrounds.
And that stayed with me for quite a while, I have to say.
Do you find that that experience
and other experiences makes it very difficult for you to deal with people
who in the past were involved in violent Republicanism?
It's challenging. It's difficult.
But in many ways it spurs me on
to make sure that it doesn't happen in the future.
Arlene Foster's relationship with Martin McGuinness
is said to be business-like, without a lot of personal rapport.
And there's a connection between the First and Deputy First Ministers
that might further explain that.
It goes back to the man
who Arlene Foster believes tried to kill her father.
This is Seamus McElwaine.
A well-known IRA gunman,
he was convicted of the murder of two off-duty members
of the security forces in rural Fermanagh,
but was thought by police to be responsible for many more.
He was killed in 1986 by the SAS as he set a booby trap bomb,
just outside the home of Arlene Foster's old neighbour,
Just across the field here from where I am,
Seamus McElwaine came in here to put off a culvert bomb
directly in front of my own house.
And had it went off, in the morning, when my wife
was down with the children sitting up the road,
they probably would have been blew to bits.
At Seamus McElwaine's funeral, Martin McGuinness gave the oration.
He referred to McElwaine as a "saint"
and said he had been "murdered by a British terrorist".
Do you think you know the identity
of the person who tried to kill your father?
Yes, I do. And he's no longer about.
No, and...Martin McGuinness spoke at his funeral.
That must be quite difficult, even now, surely?
It is quite difficult. If you talk to Martin McGuinness now,
he will say, and I heard him say just recently,
that Unionists aren't the enemy, the enemy is poverty.
The enemy is unemployment, the enemy is this, that and the other.
That's fine, but it doesn't take away from the fact
that he thought it appropriate to speak at Seamus McElwaine's funeral.
A man who had been responsible for murdering...
many people in County Fermanagh.
Earlier today, Martin McGuinness said that there is hurt on all sides,
but that he and Arlene Foster can now give positive leadership.
Newton Emerson believes that those personal experiences
give Arlene Foster a great deal of credibility amongst Unionist voters.
Foster has pitched herself with a particular message to the DUP base,
which is that she is a Troubles victim and an RUC man's daughter.
It plays to the whole belief
that the Troubles were essentially a crimewave.
It appeals in particular to the DUP
by going straight down the middle of all its religious
and secular and UUP and ex-UUP factions.
That's a kind of universal message to the broad Unionist base.
In 1989, Arlene Foster went to Queen's University in Belfast,
to study law and, on day one, joined the Ulster Unionist Party.
She soon made a name for herself.
I've been talking to quite a few members of the Unionist community
on the young side of things and they feel it is on a nationalist agenda.
After graduating, she moved back to Fermanagh
to train as a solicitor, got married and started a family.
She worked in the law firm of James Cooper,
a senior figure in the Ulster Unionist Party.
But as David Trimble led the party in peace negotiations with Sinn Fein,
Arlene Foster objected.
She thought Trimble, and his supporters, like James Cooper,
her boss, were moving too fast.
Certainly, whilst we managed to keep politics out of the office here,
in our professional relationship, a sort of deep unease developed.
-Well, I wouldn't call it personally,
but it was clear that Arlene...
had took a different political view from me.
Working just down the hall is his opponent for the nomination.
Arlene Foster, a solicitor employed by the practice,
is against the Good Friday Agreement.
I can remember well, even in this office, we would have one TV crew
interviewing her about politics and another one interviewing me
and we were clearly saying different things.
-That is pretty awkward.
-It was pretty awkward.
In 2003, Arlene Foster was elected as an Ulster Unionist MLA for Fermanagh
and South Tyrone, despite being openly critical of David Trimble.
Then, just a few weeks later, in early 2004, she made perhaps
the single most significant political decision of her life.
She defected to the DUP.
So I was faced with a decision.
I either remain within the Ulster Unionist Party
and abandon the principles which I have believed in
since I was a teenager, or I leave.
-Did you feel betrayed by her?
-I am probably more pragmatic than most.
But I think a lot of people in Fermanagh Unionism felt betrayed.
I was disappointed.
She was after winning her position as an Ulster Unionist.
And then inside a matter of ten days, she jumped ship,
as the saying goes, and joined the DUP.
I was disappointed.
Did you agonise over that,
did you ever have a sense that you were betraying people?
It was difficult. But I had to do what I thought was right.
But did you ever feel, even on a personal level, in terms
of the people you would have been working with, did you ever feel bad?
Look, Declan, the unfortunate thing around the Ulster Unionist Party
is that a lot of people had already left at that stage.
And, frankly, the people that stayed and who I was friendly with,
I'm still friendly with today.
Arlene Foster became the trusted protege of Peter Robinson,
and her loyalty was repaid.
She survived reshuffle after reshuffle,
spending more time at the Executive table as a minister
than anyone else except for Robinson and McGuinness.
Robinson obviously saw a kindred spirit in Arlene Foster
and someone who he trusted with his vision
of how the party would develop.
And I think it's pretty easy to see how he saw that.
Foster is not especially moderate, but not a hardliner.
She's not on the fundamentalist wing of the party
but nor is she particularly socially liberal
and she is ex-UUP but she has been very hard-working
at establishing herself across the DUP base.
In 2010, when Peter Robinson stepped aside for six weeks
following a Spotlight investigation into financial transactions
arising out of his wife's affair with Kirk McCambley,
Arlene Foster became acting First Minister.
She was now a clear contender for the leadership of the DUP.
My role in all of this
is to deal with the routine issues in relation to OFMDFM,
to ensure that things run smoothly.
Does this elevation for you today put you in the prime position
for becoming the leader of the party?
I wouldn't say that at all.
In 2014, Arlene Foster was featured
in a Spotlight programme about MLAs' expenses.
The programme investigated her business relationship
with this man, David Mahon.
He's a leading property dealer in County Fermanagh
and a senior figure in the Orange Order.
I have my son here which is a member of the lodge and my grandson,
which is wearing a wee lodge collaret.
He featured in a separate Spotlight investigation last year,
when I put allegations to him that some of the property companies
he controlled appeared to be part of an agenda,
inspired by the Orange Order,
to keep land in border areas in the hands of Protestants.
So this idea that people have told us about,
that there was a movement, particularly after Drumcree
in order to invest in properties like that on contentious parade routes,
or buy up particular bits of land, or property,
doesn't ring a bell with you?
It doesn't ring a bell with me, but I'm not confirming or denying it.
The Spotlight programme on MLAs' expanses revealed how Arlene Foster
rented two constituency offices from David Mahon,
and he was involved in selling property to her and her husband.
One of the offices she occupied was rented from David Mahon
at a very low rent, and the programme investigated
whether it could be construed as a gift.
Arlene Foster vigorously denied she had broken any rules,
and also took to the airwaves to criticise the BBC.
This is typical, very typical of the BBC
and the parasitical nature of the BBC
and the fact they want to give out a diet of bad news and negativity
to the people of Northern Ireland on an ongoing basis.
Why did you react like that?
I think, looking back at that time, I was angry and upset,
because, for me, my reputation is very, very important.
As well as that, it was a particularly difficult time
for me in terms of my personal life.
Someone very close to me had passed away.
And...you know, we all make mistakes.
We all say things that perhaps with hindsight we shouldn't have said
but it was a particularly difficult time.
Arlene Foster has been described
as the most powerful politician in Northern Ireland.
If she is, it's a power heavily restricted by the nature
of the political arrangements between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
You're working with a party there,
in government, who don't necessarily want Northern Ireland to work,
who just see it as a stepping stone towards a united Ireland.
There are some in Sinn Fein,
most of Sinn Fein can't even say the name of the country,
never mind try to make it work.
But do I believe that some of Sinn Fein
want to do good for the people who live here,
regardless of what you would call it? Yes, I do.
I believe that the future of this country
is firmly within the United Kingdom. I don't believe it's something
that is thought about by people on a daily basis, to be honest.
I think most people are more concerned with their daily lives
and how things are going for their children
and how well they're doing in their job
and, "Is there a health care service to look after my elderly parents?"
Those are the things that affect people on a daily basis
and frankly they're not really thinking
about the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.
Now, Arlene Foster is in a position
to make a difference to all of those issues.
But it's been a long journey to get there.
What has happened to Arlene, the road that she has travelled,
I think helps to...
Sometimes when you talk about things in the abstract,
it's very hard to communicate them.
But when you look at one person's life, and what has happened to them,
I think that can help to bring home to younger people
just what it was like. Although they're never...
We hope they will never have to experience
anything like she experienced.
Arlene Foster grew up in a very different Northern Ireland
to the one which we know today.
It was a place of real threat and constant fear.
Her experience of it made her who she is.
But now there's a new chapter,
in which she and her former enemy Martin McGuinness
will play a significant role.
Proving once again that in politics, nothing is impossible.
Exclusive filming with new first minister Arlene Foster in her first month in office. Reporter Declan Lawn examines her rise from a childhood during the Troubles in rural Fermanagh to the top of Northern Ireland's political establishment.