The DUP’s Peter Weir paid a light-hearted tribute to his closest political ally, Arlene Foster, as she resigned on Monday, saying he will reflect on her “good banter and good company”.
Mr Weir, who stepped down as education minister on Monday, vowed to remain her “loyal friend” as she stepped down from political life.
Mr Weir has been replaced by Edwin Poots’ appointee, Michelle McIlveen.
The Northern Ireland Assembly heard that Mrs Foster’s friendship with Mr Weir began when they first met in a bar in Lisnaskea in Co Fermanagh.
Quoting the Human League song, Don’t You Want Me, Mr Weir said the young Arlene “wasn’t quite working as a waitress in a cocktail bar”, but was helping her future husband, Brian, at the time.
Mr Weir proudly told the Assembly he is the person who has known Mrs Foster the longest.
“Indeed, I knew her before she was Arlene Foster,” he said.
“A person who was shaped not simply by the events of the Troubles but by a loving family environment, which meant that she built strength of character and resilience but never at the expense of humanity or bitterness.
“From that first meeting, I have known Arlene through her days at Queen’s (University), through her days in Young Unionists, through days as a solicitor, through her days in the DUP, through her days as environment minister, ETI minister, finance minister and finally as First Minister,” Mr Weir told the Assembly.
“I can reflect on the many public achievements she has been associated with – through the form of local government, to the massive boost she gave to the economy, to taking us through the pandemic, to shattering the glass ceiling and indeed, most recently, taking on and having the guts to take on the internet trolls.”
Mr Weir said he will also reflect on the private Mrs Foster.
“Someone who is good company and good banter,” he added.
Continuing on from Friday’s musical theme of Mrs Foster’s resignation after she serenaded political leaders with Frank Sinatra’s That’s Life, Mr Weir referred to a duet she sang with former MLA Nelson McCausland.
“I can remember a duet once that involved Arlene and Nelson McCausland when they sang Islands In The Stream, when somehow Nelson started singing the Dolly Parton part,” he said.
“I also remember her as part of the many one-to-one private interactions that Arlene gave to people.
“The one thing I associate particularly with Arlene is loyalty.
“Loyalty to her friends and family, loyalty to her beloved Fermanagh and South Tyrone, loyalty to the people of Northern Ireland and loyalty to the unionist cause.
“Loyalty sometimes comes at a cost, but it is always a price worth paying.
“As Arlene looks forward to the next chapter in her life, I can assure her that I will remain not only her colleague, but her loyal friend.”