ARLENE Foster hasn’t done too badly since being forced out, has she? She has moved seamlessly into the world of political punditry with her own show on *cough* GB News and has a regular column in the magazine ‘Local Women’. I’m going to admit I’ve never read Local Women, but I hear it’s big in some parts of Fermanagh.
Many women when celebrating their 50th birthday look into the abyss of a future of financial insecurity, without secure pensions and facing the prospect of being forced to work into their late-60s, irrespective of any health conditions. Thankfully, it looks like Mrs Foster has not had that burden in her 50th year, and indeed new career opportunities have opened up for her, which must be a comfort to her and her family.
But she also has time for charity work. Last week she was appointed to the board of directors of Cooperation Ireland. Of course, Mrs Foster won’t have to worry about finding her feet there as her old boss Peter Robinson is already on the board. It is an interesting board of directors where our former First Minister will find many common interests. Along with many illustrious names from politics and business there are four knights, one baroness, an MBE and an OBE (none of whom include Peter Robinson, who must feel a little aggrieved) and traditional Fine Gaelers John Bruton and Charlie Flanagan.
Cooperation Ireland’s CEO and public face is former RUC and PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan OBE. Boasting 32 years as a police officer he left the PSNI and joined Cooperation Ireland as its Chief Executive in 2008. Since then, Cooperation Ireland has positioned itself in a place of perceived neutrality where if there are visiting delegations from the EU or the US Congress, Mr Sheridan and his team organise much of the itinerary at the behest of the NIO or the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, or both.
The organisation delivers a huge breadth of programmes to a point where it is a trusted one-stop shop for contested issues. It is charged with, among many other projects, delivering peace programmes for women, “tackling paramilitarism”, and their own take on legacy – “The LEGaSi (Learning, Education, Growth and Succession Intervention) project… with the principal aim of facilitating people within Protestant Unionist Loyalist (PUL) areas to strengthen their communities.”
Cooperation Ireland is at the centre of much of the funding provided by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and the Ireland Funds.  Indeed, the Ireland Funds describe the organisation as “the foremost peace building organisation in Ireland”. So impressed are they by its work, the Ireland Funds have directed £1million to the organisation’s LEGaSi programme.
It is notable and contextual that it was only in June, following his incendiary interviews and pronouncements, that Loyalist Communities Council spokesperson David Campbell stepped down from Cooperation Ireland’s board of directors, a position he had held since 2011. Presumably this left the empty chair for Arlene Foster to join and bring her own understanding of loyalist stakeholders’ interests, as during her tenure as First Minister she regularly met with LCC members.
Although one of the many questions for Cooperation Ireland after this appointment might be, where are the appointed directors to bring such clarified understanding of republican concerns to the board?