Former First Minister Arlene Foster made a dame in Queen's Birthday Honours List

Former Stormont first minister Arlene Foster has said she is "absolutely thrilled" to have been made a dame in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

Speaking to UTV ahead of the announcement, Dame Arlene said that honour was "incredibly special" as she is a "huge royalist".

"I fundamentally believe in the monarchy. I think that it transcends politics in a way that an elected president just wouldn't be able to do.

The ex-leader of the DUP was the first woman appointed First Minister in Northern Ireland and said that she hopes her damehood is an acknowledgement of this achievement.

"I don't think I realised how important it was to a lot of young women to have a female first minister until I stepped down and received a lot of correspondence."

Dame Arlene is the most high-profile name among 100 honours recipients from Northern Ireland.

Patricia Donnelly, who ran Northern Ireland's Covid-19 vaccination programme during the pandemic, has been made an OBE while the Grand Secretary of the Orange Order Reverend Mervyn Gibson becomes an MBE.

Abortion reform campaigner Sarah Ewart is made an OBE. Ms Ewart pressed for the liberalisation of Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws after being denied a termination in the region following a diagnosis that her unborn child would die in the womb or shortly after birth.

Ireland's most capped international hockey player Shirley McCay, from Co Tyrone, is made an MBE, as is business expert Aodhan Connolly, who articulated the concerns of Northern Ireland traders through the Brexit process.

Dame Arlene represented the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone as a Stormont Assembly member for 18 years before leaving electoral politics in 2021, and said that she hopes the honour is a reflection of her work for that area.

Dame Arlene's honour comes just over a year after she was forced to resign as DUP leader and First Minister after an internal party revolt.

Despite the boost of her Damehood, the former leader said that she had "moved away from local politics", however she remains committed to "advocating for unionism."

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, who she feels may still be having trouble believing the news.

"I'm not sure they've fully got their head around the fact that Mum is gonna be a Dame yet!"

Since leaving politics, Dame Arlene has taken on several new roles, including a position as a TV presenter on GB News.

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