THE former First Minister, Arlene Foster, says she gets annoyed when people say religion should be taken out of politics.

Mrs. Foster, an Anglican, said having a strong Christian faith should have a positive impact on politics. She said: “Christianity doesn’t call you to be neutral – it calls you to be salt and light about what you believe in.

“It does annoy me when people say you have to take religion out of politics and leave it at the door, like it only happens at the weekend. It is part of who you are.

“Your Christianity and your faith is something that is with you all the time. You can’t just leave it at home on Sunday night and go out without it on Monday.”

In one of her first public appearances since she left politics, Mrs. Foster took part in the Autumn Series at the Saint Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, the world’s only permanent exhibition to Saint Patrick.

She was in conversation in front of a live audience with former UTV presenter Gerry Kelly, and she opened up about her faith journey, her political career and the trauma of The Troubles.

The audience included the Dean of Down, the Very Reverend Henry Hull, and her long-time friend and former Education Minister, Peter Weir, who is recovering from surgery.

Mrs. Foster said she does not hold grudges against those who had hurt her, including former colleague Edwin Poots, who ousted her from the DUP leadership in May before being forced out of office himself just weeks later.

She said she liked the late DUP leader Ian Paisley very much. “He used to joke with me and say, ‘How are the Anglicans doing, Arlene?’,” she revealed.

Asked by Mr. Kelly if she thought Dr. Paisley had mellowed over the years, she said: “I never knew Dr. Paisely personally until 2003 or 2004, and I think he probably was in a different [head] space than he had been in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties.”

She declined to speculate on what might have changed him. “I don’t know. I can’t answer that. I only know he was very supportive of me as a female and an Anglican and as an outsider.

"He asked me to be in the Administration in 2007, which I have always been very thankful for.”

Mrs. Foster said her Christian faith helped her to seek common ground with people she did not agree with, adding that her reason for going into government with Sinn Fein was to make sure that her children and others did not endure what she went through as a child.

This included the attempted murder in 1979 of her father, John, an RUC reservist, living on the Fermanagh Border – and a bomb attack on her school bus driver, in which her friend was left severely injured.

Recalling the gun attack on her father, that happened when she was around eight years old, she said he came crawling back from the barn after gunshots were fired, with blood dripping from his forehead.

“It was a very strange time,” she said. “My mother was sitting at the kitchen table and I don’t know what she was doing, but I will never forget her face. .She just froze.”

Mrs. Foster said it was not politically correct to say it, but she felt she benefited from being educated at an all-girl school, where she grew in confidence.

The former political leader said she was enjoying her new role in journalism as a presenter on GB News, but said more must be done to tackle hurtful abuse on social media, particularly against women.

Mrs. Foster was welcomed to the Centre by Dr. Tim Campbell who said her personal story was incredibly interesting: "Arlene Foster was extremely gracious and gave very generously of her time, and people in the audience responded to her warmth.”