There is something different about Arlene Foster, post-politics.

It is almost like she exudes an air of contentment – a far cry from the tense demeanour that marked most of her tenure as Northern Ireland’s First Minister until she was ousted from the job in 2021.

“I am in a good place now, I am happy,” said Mrs. Foster.

Yet beneath the smile her unwavering stance in the face of criticism remains unchanged – a trait that has defined her throughout her career, for better or for worse.

The last time she sat down for a proper interview with The Impartial Reporter was in 2016.

There have been many moments in her life since, not least leading Stormont during Covid-19.

To begin, I wanted to find out about what that was like; from lockdowns to vaccine roll-outs, from nursing home closures to home schooling, the pandemic changed all our lives.

Impartial Reporter: Arlene Foster.Arlene Foster.

And, day by day, it was Stormont that decided how we should react.

But did they get it wrong?

“Do I think mistakes were made during Covid-19 by the government? Yes, I do,” said Mrs. Foster, emphasising that mistakes weren’t a result of negligence or carelessness.

“I don’t think they were made out of sloppiness or anything like that,” she remarked.

“They were made because we thought we were doing the right thing, given the information that we had at the time.”

One of the decisions that Mrs. Foster touched upon was the closure of schools.


Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, she expressed her concerns, particularly for the impact on the younger generation.

“Closing schools is something I feel that, when you think about the number of young people who are now exhibiting difficulties because of that period of time when they didn’t have school and the impact that that has had on them [perhaps things could have been done differently].

“For vulnerable children, for safety, for kids with special needs, because of the routine and necessity of all that,” she stressed, acknowledging the vital role that school plays in the lives of such students.

Did she lose sleep during the very heavy nights?

“I think everyone had sleepless nights during Covid,” she said.

More than two years ago, members of the Democratic Unionists ousted her as leader, bringing her time infrontline politics in Stormont to an end.

Reflecting, she expressed a pragmatic perspective on her departure.

“My political career was cut off. But I think, you know, there is no point in looking back with recrimination.

“Things happened, and I therefore had to go. I don’t feel any bitterness,” Mrs. Foster revealed.

When asked if she forgives those in the DUP who were responsible for her downfall, her response was candid.

“Well, I mean, I’m not sure they asked for my forgiveness, to be fair.

“They haven’t spoken to me since, they didn’t speak to me before, and they haven’t spoken to me since.”

She acknowledged that the lack of communication made the concept of forgiveness less relevant.

But is she still a member of the DUP?

“No, I am no longer a member of the DUP. The most difficult decision was the decision to walk away from being the MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.”

She is now a member of the House of Lords. Her transition from Parliament Buildings to the halls of the House of Lords has provided her with fresh perspectives.

“I still have people coming to me for help. I love that. And there’s still that engagement.”


Her role in the House of Lords affords her the ability to lend her voice to the issues she cares about deeply.

“Being in the House of Lords allows me to give voice to some of those concerns, or some of those issues that people want to raise, having somebody from the area.”

She said she “will always be an advocate for Fermanagh and Northern Ireland”.

“The joke when I was Minister for Tourism was that every speech had to have a reference to Fermanagh, and that was probably true.

“And so, in the Lords, it’s important that there is a voice for this part of the UK in London, as there is no voice in the House of Commons.”

That will come as little comfort to those of us who are frustrated by the lack of progress in infrastructure, health, education and other areas.

Some critics point to Mrs. Foster and the previous Stormont government for this.

Rodney Edwards: We havebeen left out again and again ...

Arlene Foster: “I don’t accept Fermanagh was left out, I don’t think that’s true.”

RE: But this has happened many times.

AF: “What is important is that the local council representatives and communities work with the government to promote the place that they’re representing.”

RE: But these are legitimate concerns.

AF: “Yes, but instead of being negative, and saying, ‘Oh, look, it’s terrible, this is awful, we’re forgotten about’ – why not promote the place and actually say it’s a really positive place to live in?

“If people are looking on the internet and they Google Fermanagh, and the first thing they see is a local councillor talking the place down, well, that’s not going to attract that person or business to come to Fermanagh.”

She addressed one example of criticism surrounding Fermanagh’s rail network and expressed her perspective on the challenges.

RE: That is an example of how we have been neglected – again.

AF: “Hold on, we lost rail connectivity in 1957. I know that, because my mother used to get the train from Belfast to Clones Junction.

“If we want that back, we are talking about a billion-pound investment.

“I mean, we’re not talking millions here – we’re talking billions.

“We should never have lost the railway line, but that was a decision taken nearly 70 years ago”

RE: And what about the Southern Bypass being shelved, given that you were the one that announced it all those years ago? How do you feel?

AF: “We have a situation now where the Secretary of State (SoS) has cut the budget for the Southern Bypass. That is outrageous, absolutely outrageous.”

The conversation shifted to a broader view of infrastructure projects, which seemed to be impacted.

Mrs. Foster believes there is a “pattern of punishment” by the Northern Ireland Office, rather than addressing the real issues.

“He’s [the SoS] actually cutting off investment in places where investment is really needed. And that’s wrong.”

RE: This may be very different if your former party returned to Stormont [the DUP is refusing to reform the institutions in a row over the Northern Ireland Protocol]. Do you think they should?

AF: “I’m not going to get into that issue, because I think it has been very clearly set out what is needed to see government back up and running again.”

She highlighted the challenges posed by the Windsor Framework, particularly in relation to trade.

“You cannot order some products from Great Britain and get them over to Northern Ireland without checks, which is completely unsustainable, because we are in a single UK market for goods.”

In response to questions about her relationship with former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Mrs. Foster shared insights into their interactions.

“I chatted to Boris at a reception in London a couple of months ago. I don’t think he’d consider me a friend.

“He is somebody in politics who I knew and got on okay with.

“Whatever people say about his politics, I think he has a chemistry with the Tory electorate, and most people don’t take issue with that.”

She suggested the media can “create certain images of political figures”.

“The media can make people into caricatures,” she said.

“I will not repeat what has been said about me.”

She also discussed her role at GB News and disagreed with the controversial broadcaster being described as a “right-wing, pro-Brexit, anti-woke news channel”.

“GB news is about free speech. They will bring people on and allow them to speak, regardless of whether the interviewer disagrees with the person or not.”

Reflecting on the growth of GB News, she remarked: “People thought it wouldn’t survive, people thought it wouldn’t last. But actually, it’s gone from strength to strength.”

Next month, Mrs. Foster joins this newspaper as a columnist, where she will offer her thoughts in our new Opinion section. How does she feel?

“It is important that I have a connection with Fermanagh, and writing for The Impartial Reporter occasionally will give me that opportunity.

“The sign of a healthy democracy is that you can be yourself.

“Everyone knows I am a Unionist, that I am British, but I am also a Fermanagh woman who cares about this place,” added Mrs. Foster.