The Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland might only have 10 seats in Parliament, but Prime Minister Theresa May will need the party’s help to keep the Conservatives in power after the Tories failed to win an overall majority. As a result, the support of DUP leader Arlene Foster, who survived an IRA bombing as a teen and her own political scandal a few months ago, is crucial.
After the Conservatives fell eight seats shy of securing a majority, May started talks with the DUP. After meeting with Queen Elizabeth II for about a half hour on June 9, May announced outside of 10 Downing Street that she will work with her “friends and allies” in the DUP to keep Brexit moving forward, the BBC reports. Meanwhile, the Opposition Labour party gained 29 seats, inspiring Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to call on May to resign as PM.
“Our two parties have enjoyed a strong relationship over many years,” May said of the relationship between the Tories and the DUP. “And this gives me the confidence to believe that we will be able to work together in the interests of the whole United Kingdom.”
Foster is married to Brian Foster. The couple has three children.
Here’s what you need to know about the DUP leader, 46-year-old Arlene Foster.
1. During the Troubles, Foster Survived an IRA School Bus Bombing as a Teen
Foster was born Arlene Kelly in Dernawilt, County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. She grew up during The Troubles, a conflict that began in 1968 and didn’t finally end until 1998’s Good Friday Agreement. Over 3,500 people died during The Troubles.
Foster had two personal life-changing experiences during The Troubles, notes a BBC profile. In 1970, her father, a part-time Royal Uslter Constabulary officer, was nearly killed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
In 1988, as a teenager, her school bus was targeted by the IRA, since it was being driven by a part-time Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier. According to the BBC, the girl sitting next to her on the bus was badly injured.
Foster studied law at Queens University in Belfast and became a private solicitor in Enniskillen and Poradown. She was first elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2003. She’s also served as the Minister for Finance and Personnel (2015-2016), Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (2008-2015) and Minister for the Environment (2007-2008). As leader of DUP, she is also First Minister of Northern Ireland.
2. Foster Played a Role in the Renewable Heat Incentive Scandal & There Were Calls for Her Resignation
Foster survived the 2016-2017 Renewable Heat Incentive Scandal, which was also dubbed the “Cash for Ash” Scandal and centered on a failed renewable energy plan in Northern Ireland. According to the BBC, the Department for the Economy estimated that the scheme lost Northern Ireland taxpayers £490 million pounds.
There were calls for Foster to resign, since the scheme began in 2012, when she was leading the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. The BBC explained that the scheme gave out subsidies to companies that used renewable energy. However, the cost of the subsidies was more than the cost of the fuel the companies used, so they were making money out of the deal.
Foster refused to resign, but the late Martin McGuinness, the leader of Sinn Féin and the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, resigned out of protest. As a result, there was a snap election in March, which resulted in the DUP losing 10 seats. But Foster remained the party’s leader.
After MacGuinness resigned, Foster said she was “disappointed,” adding that “At a time when we are dealing with Brexit, needing to create more jobs and investing in our health and education system, Northern Ireland needs stability. But because of Sinn Féin’s selfish reactions, we now have instability.”
3. Foster Supported Brexit & Said She Had ‘No Regrets’
Even though most Northern Ireland voters wanted to remain in the European Union, Foster supported Brexit. Her party was the only major party in Northern Ireland that supported it.
After the results came in, Foster told reporters that she had “no regrets” about supporting it, reports the Belfast Telegraph. She was also critical of Sinn Fein’s leadership for their statements on the results.
“It is regrettable that some parties have set their face against the decision of the UK electorate, however, after a while they will realise we will have to get on and we have to do the things that we were elected to do, and that was to represent the people of Northern Ireland,” Foster said.
Recently, Foster told Sky News that she doesn’t want to see a “hard border” created between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. After all, Northern Ireland is the only country of the U.K. that shares a physical border with an EU country.
“What we want to see is a workable plan to leave the European Union, and that’s what the national vote was about – therefore we need to get on with that,” Foster told Sky News. “However, we need to do it in a way that respects the specific circumstances of Northern Ireland, and, of course, our shared history and geography with the Republic of Ireland. No-one wants to see a hard border, Sinn Fein talk about it a lot, but nobody wants a hard border.”
4. The DUP Has Kept Northern Ireland From Finally Having Same-Sex Marriage
Foster is the leader of a party that’s considered right-wing and is closely tied with the Protestant churches. As The Telegraph notes, the party has several controversial views. For example, in 2011, five of their MPs called for a parliamentary debate on reviving the death penalty in the U.K.
The DUP has also successfully kept Northern Ireland as the only U.K. country without same-sex marriage. In October 2016, The BBC reported that Foster’s party has continued to block same-sex marriage reform using a “petition of concern.” In 2015, the DUP blocked a same-sex marriage proposal that was approved by a one-vote majority from the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs).
Foster has insisted that the DUP isn’t anti-LGBT, even telling the BBC in October that “Gays are welcome” in the party.
“This suggestion that every single person who is a homosexual wants to change the definition of marriage is wrong,” Foster told the BBC. “I know plenty of people in that community who don’t want to see marriage redefined are quite content to live in partnership.”
5. Foster Doesn’t Want to Lift Strict Abortion Rules in Northern Ireland
As for abortion, Foster has fought against the Abortion Act 1967 from being brought to Northern Ireland. The act legalized abortions in the other U.K. countries.
“I would not want abortion to be as freely available here as it is in England and don’t support the extension of the 1967 act,” Foster told the Guardian in January 2016.
As the BBC notes, there are ways to legally get an abortion in Northern Ireland, but it’s very difficult. There is the 1945 Infant Life (Preservation) Act, which has been extended to Northern Ireland. It allows for an abortion in order to save the life of the mother. However, rape and fatal foetal abnormalities are not legal reasons for an abortion.
The BBC notes that there were just 16 abortions in Northern Ireland hospitals between 2014 and 2015. The Family Planning Association (FPA) said in 2014 there were 837 abortions performed in England for Northern Ireland residents.