Woman of the week: Arlene Foster

In the wake of the EU referendum, we have heard time and time again that ‘Brexit means Brexit’… but no matter how many times this is said, no one – not even top political broadcasters – really know what ‘Brexit’ means. What does it mean for us as students, what does it mean for the economy, and, a question of mounting importance, what does it mean for Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland’s geography gives it the only land border between the UK and the European Union. Therefore, would this border with the EU and The Republic of Ireland have to be manned with strict controls? For some in the Northern Irish border towns, who overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU, this possibility brings back strong and emotional memories of The Troubles, and questions if the re-erection of a border could threaten the Good Friday Agreement, which has only been effective for 17 years.

The Troubles are an issue that the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, who grew up in a Northern Irish border town, has known her whole life. From attempts on her father's life in their family home, to her school bus being bombed by the IRA, Foster has seen first hand the horrors of the conflict over the Irish Sea.

Foster’s household was not a political one, but during her time studying Law at Queen’s University in Belfast, she became active in the Queen’s Unionist Association, which laid the foundations for her successful political career as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party. Not only is she is the first woman to ever hold this position, but she is also the first female First Minister of Northern Ireland. Her work has been recognised from the beginning of her career; in 2008 she was recognised as Assembly member of the year at the Women in Public Life Awards, and this year was named as Minister of the Year.

In the uncertain times across the Irish Sea, community cohesion is at heart of Foster’s visions. She recently launched a £700,000 social fund to improve community facilities and fund volunteer groups in the Fermanagh, Strabane, Omagh and Limavady areas, where she began her political career as a councillor in 2005. She hopes the project will “empower communities to bring about change for themselves”. Foster is also a skilled negotiator, recently securing £133 million to fund police and firefighter pensions. However, eyes are now on her response to Brexit, which she campaigned for, in line with her party, the DUP and their eurosceptic stance. She has said "Brexit means Brexit” (again… what?!), “but that doesn't mean that we close our eyes to the challenges that are there." And the challenges she faces are plentiful, but if there is anyone who can guide Northern Ireland through these uncertain times, it’s Arlene Foster.