Dame Arlene Foster has said she hopes her status as the first woman to become first minister of Northern Ireland will inspire other women to become involved in public life.
The politician’s comments came after she was made a Dame Commander for political and public service by the Princess Royal during a Windsor Castle investiture ceremony.
The ex-leader of the Democratic Unionist Party said the event fell on a “poignant” day as it was the 35th anniversary of the Enniskillen bombing and her thoughts were with the families of the victims.
She also confirmed reports she is set to become a peer, saying: “Well I’m going into the House of Lords actually, later on this month so I’m looking forward to that.”
Speaking after the ceremony, she said: “Like everything in politics you don’t realise the importance of it at the time but when I stepped down from being first minister I received a lot of messages and correspondence from young women, not just Northern Ireland across the UK, about how important it was to have a female first minister, and they hadn’t really thought about it until I wasn’t there anymore.
“I think it’s good to have role models and I hope I’ve encouraged other women to become involved in public life and if I’ve done that, that in of itself is an achievement.”
Dame Arlene’s honour comes over a year after she was forced to resign as DUP leader and first minister after an internal party revolt.
The former solicitor from Rosslea in Co Fermanagh survived two horrific childhood experiences of IRA violence. She spent her early political career in the Ulster Unionist Party before defecting to the DUP in protest at the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and the leadership of then UUP leader David Trimble.
Dame Arlene still lives in Co Fermanagh with her husband and three children.
Speaking about the IRA’s infamous Remembrance Sunday attack in Enniskillen on November 8, 1987 – which killed 11 people – she added: “I think at moments like this you do stop and think about your career.
“And today’s a poignant day because it’s the 35th anniversary of the Enniskillen bomb and I’ve been thinking a lot about the victims’ families today, because ordinarily I would have been in Enniskillen with the families.”
Since leaving politics, she has embraced several new challenges, including a role as a TV presenter on GB News and said about the position: “I’m enjoying my new career.”