As former DUP leader Arlene Foster prepares to become the former First Minister, many within Unionism, and the wider political community, will have different memories of her as a person, a politician, party leader, Stormont Minister and ultimately First Minister.
It is no secret that I have been a life-long member of the Ulster Unionist Party as were my late parents and grandparents. Arlene served a couple of mandates in the Northern Ireland Assembly along with my late dad.
But my abiding memory of Arlene is a rousing speech she made - when she was in the UUP - at the annual BBQ hosted by the late Drew Nelson, a former leading member of the Orange Order’s ruling body, the Grand Lodge of Ireland, at his home in the Lagan Valley constituency.
Jeffrey Donaldson and Peter Weir were also at that BBQ. Later all three, including Arlene, left for the DUP. But that evening in Drew’s home as I sat a few feet away from where Arlene made her speech I was totally impressed with her enthusiasm for Unionism. She could deliver an awesome speech.
It was at a time when the UUP was then in turmoil with still considerable bitterness politically between the Yes and No camps of the party over the Good Friday Agreement.
Whilst I had been part of Jeffrey Donaldson’s campaign team which secured him the Lagan Valley UUP Westminster nomination, and ultimately succeeded James Molyneaux as MP, my abiding memory of Arlene’s speech that summer’s evening in Lagan Valley at Drew’s was - here’s a UUP leader in waiting if Trimble is toppled!
Well, I got a bit of it right! She was a leader in waiting - I just got the party wrong! Unfortunately, the UUP at that time always had a reputation for airing its dirty political linen in public.
So, like many of my journalistic colleagues, it was with much amazement as we watched the DUP publicly implode at a Belfast hotel as what should have been a coronation for new DUP boss Edwin Poots (also from Lagan Valley) became a UUP-style slagging match.
It has left me wondering - if only Arlene had remained in the UUP along with Donaldson and Weir. At least the UUP operates a one paid-up member, one vote policy when it comes to electing a leader; at least there are public hustings so that the grassroots UUP members can ask questions of the leadership candidates - certainly not the secret so-called cabal in the DUP known as the ‘electoral college’.
But what will Arlene’s time in the DUP, and especially her tenure as First Minister, best be remembered for? And more importantly, at the age of 50 as she said herself, where does Arlene go from here politically?
Whilst we can talk about the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal, dubbed ‘cash for ash’, pre-election comments about ‘feeding crocodiles’ in reference to Sinn Fein demands, the collapse of the power-sharing institutions, ultimately what I recall about Arlene was the sheer brutality of the coup from within the DUP which toppled her.
Even by militant DUP standards, the manner of her demise as leader was even more draconian than that which forced the party’s founder, the late Rev Ian Paisley, to quit as First Minister, leader of the DUP and even Moderator of the Christian fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster he created in 1951 - 20 years before he launched the DUP.
Under Edwin Poots, the fundamentalists may now be back in control of the DUP and most of the modernisers and Unionist moderates who would have supported Donaldson have been pushed to the side.
But Arlene may still have the last laugh. While the coronavirus pandemic has forced the Stormont Executive to work together, Team Poots - as his DUP team of ministers and committee chairs and deputy chairs has become known - may well be driven into a series of embarrasing U-turns over an Irish Language Act and implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol to keep the Stormont institutions running.
Likewise, resignations and defections from the DUP over the running of the party or the brutality of the Arlene coup could see former DUP members running as Independent Unionist or UUP candidates at next May’s expected Stormont general election - a move which could obliterate the DUP’s slender one-seat majority over Sinn Fein and hand the post of First Minister to the apologist party for the Provisional IRA.
As for Arlene, while she has indicated she will step away from the DUP, options include returning to the UUP, running as an Independent Unionist in her native Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency, elevation to the Westminster House of Lords, or a public campaigner for women’s rights.
In a world of political uncertainties in Northern Ireland, one thing is certain - the body politic has not heard the last of Arlene Foster. And her ‘political ghost’ may come back to haunt Team Poots.
Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 10.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online.