Last week was a roller coaster. We mourned the loss of some of the world’s most vibrant and innovative artists. It was difficult to feel warmth in the dark abyss. And yet a chink of light appeared under a heavy door as a stiff key turned toward change.
Last week, for the first time, a woman became First Minister of Northern Ireland. If you’re not familiar with Northern Irish politics First Minister is a bit like Prime Minister. Her name is Arlene Foster and she comes from County Fermanagh. Fermanagh, if you’ve never been, is where the majority of rain that falls in Northern Ireland seems to land and as a result, abounds with lush green fields.
There is a saying back home that everyone knows someone affected by The Troubles. Some experienced the violence that tore our wee patch of the world apart more directly than others. For Arlene, The Troubles called at her door more than once. When she was little her daddy was maimed by the big, brave boys of the IRA who covered their faces and called in the dead of night to take him away from her. When she was a little older they came knocking again. This time it was the driver of the school bus they were after and she, along with all the other children on their way to school, would just have to be collateral for a greater cause.
Arlene studied to become a lawyer and became an active member within the political community during her time at University. She has held various positions within the NI Assembly from Environment Minister to member of the Policing Board to Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister. This post isn’t intended to fangirl over our new First Minister. It’s simply to highlight that she’s no dozer. (That’s Norn Irish for ‘idiot’.)
Seeing as we’ve not had a woman First Minister before lots of people had something to say about it. The congratulatory note that’s received the most publicity came from within Foster’s own political party, from colleague Edwin Poots:
In congratulating Arlene on her elevation to the post of First Minister, I should say that it is the second most important job that she will ever take on. Her most important job has been, and will remain, that of a wife, mother and daughter. Family will always come first. I know that that will be the case with Arlene, and it should be the case.
Still reeling? Here’s a link to Edwin’s speech in glorious technicolour.
Let’s allow that to sink in for a minute. Bearing in mind Arlene Foster is now his boss let’s dissect this line by line shall we, starting with Foster’s ‘elevation‘ to the post. To clarify, this is not the first time she has been First Minister as such. Back in 2010 she stepped into the role when First Minister Peter Robinson took some time out to ‘look after’ his wife who had recently retreated from public life due to an unfortunate series of liaisons with a 19 year old businessman. She held the fort until Robinson returned. When he decided to retire last year she was the only candidate he had in mind to replace him. So, not an elevation, rather hard graft and a proven track record of success.
Edwin also appears to see into the future – a modern-day Mystic Meg – when he says with certainty this is the second most important job that she will ever take on. I wonder what he knows that the rest of us don’t, hey what?
And here it is. Our court jester’s big reveal: Arlene will never be more than a mere woman – reared for breeding and homemaking! Sure there’s no finer purpose in life for a woman than to dedicate every waking hour to the behest of a man.
Here’s an audio file of a discussion with Poots on BBC Talkback. Around 3 mins in he really comes into his own:
Poor put upon Edwin later cried ‘claptrap!’ at those who called out on his sexist remarks acknowledging that when he became Health Minister he claimed his most important job in life would always be husband and father. What he doesn’t seem to understand is that it’s not for him to determine the importance of such roles for the new First Minister. In a professional arena these comments are as detrimental as an evaluation her outfit.
His final quip of ‘Family will always come first…and so it should be the case’ hammers home where Edwin believes the First Minister’s priorities ought to lie. Call me old-fashioned but between the hours of 9am and whatever, I want my First Minister to be focused on leading all 1,857,532 people of Northern Ireland toward a brighter future – not just the three children she has back home. I want a prosperous Northern Ireland that attracts the best talent from all over the world. I want to return to a better Northern Ireland than the one that I left, knowing I am bringing back finely tuned skills and a fat contact book that will help grow our economy in years to come. If Edwin’s primary concern during working hours is that of his family over his electorate then he needs to take a little time out.
Whatever your politics, the past week has been momentous for women in Northern Ireland. May our raised voices unite so Edwin and his fellow misogynists may grasp, loud and clear, that we can walk to the kitchen if we want to; we do not need to be dragged there by the ignorance of others.
Until next time,