Arlene Foster faces 'fairly daunting task' says Sammy Wilson

By Stephen Walker
BBC News NI Political Correspondent

  • Published
Arlene FosterImage source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
Mrs Foster has taken over as first minister from Peter Robinson

Arlene Foster, who became Northern Ireland first minister on Monday, faces a "fairly daunting task" according to the man who considered challenging her for the job of party leader.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson decided not to contest a leadership race when Peter Robinson stood down before Christmas.

"Obviously the Assembly does not have a great image and that is partly due to its own behaviour and partly due to the way the media has treated even some of its successes," Mr Wilson told the BBC.

"So I think the first thing that she should do between now and the election is to get a lot of positives for the assembly."

He said that the new first minister must work hard to show how devolution can change people's lives.

"There are positive things being done on a day to day basis and those have to be emphasised," Mr Wilson said.

Mrs Foster has taken over as first minister from Robinson, who held the post for nearly six years.

The Fermanagh MLA previously held the executive posts of finance and enterprise ministers.

She became party leader after members met in a east Belfast hotel last month. She said she was "humbled" to be following in the footsteps of Mr Robinson and his predecessor Ian Paisley.

'Change perceptions'

Political commentator Fionnuala O'Connor said the new first minister could change perceptions.

"Her first biggest hurdle will be reaching out whilst sounding perfectly in command of her own unionism and reaching out to nationalism," she told the BBC.

Image source, PressEye
Image caption,
Commentator Alex Kane has said May's assembly elections will be crucial for Mrs Foster

Ms O'Connor also believes that party discipline will be important and should be about "managing the party in a positive way rather than a negative way".

In the months ahead the new first minster will want to implement the Fresh Start Agreement which was negotiated before Christmas.

Education will also be a priority and not surprisingly the former enterprise minister wants to see more inward investment and prioritise job creation.

Election success crucial

Aside from the wider economic issues, May's assembly elections loom large and Alex Kane, a former communications director with the UUP, who is now a political journalist, says the forthcoming poll is crucial.

He says Mrs Foster needs a very good election and "does not want to spend May 6th touring studios explaining why the DUP has lost six or seven seats".

"She has to prove herself: "If she does that on May the 6th she can do what she likes," he added.

To some Mrs Foster is more than a politician and they see her as someone who can inspire other women to enter public life.

Jane Morrice, who was a Women's Coalition MLA and deputy assembly speaker hopes the new first minister will promote women.

"I think that is something Arlene Foster should definitely concentrate on. There are women in her party and elsewhere who she should encourage and she should do that," she said.

All leaders are judged by results and Arlene Foster will be no different.

Her political honeymoon will be brief and time is short. She does not need to be reminded that polling day is just four months away.