Environment Minister 1999 – 2002
From all tributes to Sam Foster, it is clear that he never abandoned his humble roots even when serving in high office in a turbulent period of the peace process. Deeply rooted in his community, he lived in Enniskillen’s Derrychara estate and worked as a school attendance officer and social worker for many years. His public service continued in the Ulster Special Constabulary and Ulster Defence Regiment and as a member of Fermanagh District Council from 1981 onwards.
The Poppy Day bombing in November 1987 and the murder of other colleagues left long-lasting and painful memories yet he is also well remembered for his courtesy and forgiveness. He dealt professionally with Sinn Féin during his time as Environment Minister and made a strong impression as an honourable and fair political representative.
“A lasting memorial would be permanent peace,” he told the Assembly eleven years later. “Never again would Northern Ireland become a rubble heap, a charnel house, a breeding ground for pestilence and hate.”
He was elected to Stormont in 1998 and served on the new Executive from December 1999 onwards as a loyal supporter of David Trimble and the Good Friday Agreement. He stepped down from local government in 2001 and left office as Minister in February 2002 after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Sam received a CBE for political and public service, and continued in the Assembly until the November 2003 election. In his last comments before the Assembly’s suspension, he called for progress on building the new acute hospital for the south west of the province.
He also represented the Ulster Unionist Party on the Policing Board between 2001 and 2006, drawing on his experience from the Police Authority for Northern Ireland in the 1980s. He found the disease very inhibiting as it progressed but bore it with a quiet dignity.
Sam and his beloved wife Dorothy had three children – Mervyn, Helen and David – and his passing was mourned by a wide circle of relatives, friends and neighbours. He attended St Macartin’s Cathedral and was keen supporter of Enniskillen Rangers and Manchester United.
“Almost all of Sam’s life was dedicated to the community,” his friend and colleague Tom Elliott told the Assembly. “He was not, as we have heard, afraid to put his life at risk to serve others.” The SDLP’s John Dallat, who served in the post-Agreement Assembly, reflected on his humility: “Here was a man who was not overtaken by the graces of the ministerial car, briefcase and special advisers.” By winning respect and admiration across the floor of the House, Sam Foster “helped to put down enough foundations for this Assembly to survive and be here today.”