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Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster - Northern Ireland's first woman leader

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Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster has become the first woman ever to be elected to lead Northern Ireland. She will hold the job for at least six weeks. It is the culmination of a rapid ascent to power by a woman who was long ago tipped to become a successful politician.

Foster, 39, was asked by the troubled Peter Robinson to temporarily lead the Democratic Unionist Party while he addresses some personal issues surrounding his promiscuous wife.

She is a former member of the Ulster Unionist Party and was encouraged by Robinson to leave the UUP and join the DUP in 2003.

Foster was born and raised near Lisnaskea in County Fermanagh. During the troubles she survived a bomb attack on her school bus, which was driven by a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment. Foster's father was a member of the RUC police force and she witnessed an attempt on his life by republicans in the family home.

Foster was educated at Queens University and graduated with a degree in law. She  practiced as a solicitor in Portadown and Enniskillen.

She developed a keen interest in politics at college. She joined the Ulster Unionist Association in Queens and was chairman of the association from 1992 - 1993.

Foster also chaired the youth wing of the UUP in 1995. Foster became honorary secretary of the UUP's council in 1996 and she held that position until she left the party in 2003.

Foster personally developed strong views about the future of unionism and later left the UUP with Jeffrey Donaldson and Norah Beare.

Foster was appointed Minister for the Environment in 2007 and was later reshuffled and appointed to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in June 2008.

Robinson's choice for First Minister was a surprise to many but Foster has proved herself as an ironclad unionist with remarkable ability.

Foster is married with three children.

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