A Global Research Institute of Queen's University Belfast

Research

The First Minister, Arlene Foster MLA, delivers the Harri Holkeri Lecture

20/06/2016

Arlene Foster

The Institute was honoured to welcome First Minister Arlene Foster as our Harri Holkeri Lecturer for 2016. The First Minister delivered a presentation to a packed audience in Riddel Hall, entitled: ‘Women, Leadership and Peace-building’.

The Institute was honoured to welcome First Minister Arlene Foster as our Harri Holkeri Lecturer for 2016. The First Minister delivered a presentation to a packed audience in Riddel Hall, entitled: ‘Women, Leadership and Peace-building’. Indeed, Ms Foster is uniquely placed to reflect on this particular theme, as she is not only the first female First Minister to lead the Northern Ireland assembly, but she is also the first female to lead the DUP. The MLA from Fermanagh has had a rapid rise through the DUP's ranks since joining the party from the Ulster Unionists in 2004.

Ms Foster has been a senior representative for the party since that time, representing it on the Northern Ireland Policing Board and later working closely with the Party Leader during negotiations on the devolution of Policing and Justice. She was appointed Minister for the Environment following the 2007 Assembly elections and oversaw the creation of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, helping to bring forward new rural planning policy. A series of high profile roles quickly followed and she served as Minister for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and, more recently, as Minister for Finance and Personnel. On the retirement of Peter Robinson in December 2015, she was elected the party’s first female leader. In 2008 the Women in Public Life Awards awarded Arlene Foster the title of devolved ‘Assembly Member of the Year’ in recognition of her contribution to political and community leadership, a contribution that she continues to make as Northern Ireland’s most prominent female politician.

On behalf of the Finnish government, this event was attended by the Finnish Ambassador to the UK, Ms Päivi Luostarinen and the Finnish Ambassador to Ireland, Ms Jaana Teckenberg (pictured above left).

In her opening address, Ms Foster did draw on some gender dissimilarities and stated "leadership transcends masculine or feminine labels".

“When I am asked to articulate the significance of a woman being Northern Ireland’s First Minister, I am often reminded of Margaret Thatcher who famously remarked, ‘If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman’.” Ms Foster did add Margaret Thatcher, “who divided opinion but defined leadership”.

Ms Foster said the concept of leadership goes beyond gender tags and she highlighted; “Effective leaders, male or female, seek to implement their visions, vary their behaviours contingent upon situational requirements and in general grapple successfully with the ever-changing and complex internal and external demands upon their organisation.”

The First Minister eloquently spoke of how women such as the late former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth II and the missionary midwife Maud Kells, who was shot by Congolese bandits in Africa, influenced her as a political leader.

In referring to Ms Thatcher, the First Minister stated, “I can’t help but have a great admiration for a formidable woman who thrived in a man’s world.”

In discussing the Queen’s leadership, Ms Foster said “Queen Elizabeth II may be small in stature, but even now at 90 years of age she remains a towering presence. She is humble and yet inspires great pride.”


The Harri Holkeri lecture series was established in 2013 to celebrate the late Finnish Prime Minister Harri Holkeri’s contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process. Holkeri’s aim of transforming conflict and promoting social justice in Northern Ireland and across the globe is shared by the Institute. The Institute is thus honoured to partner with the Finnish Embassy in hosting this annual lecture series in recognition of Holkeri’s contributions to peace.