28 April 2021 | NEWS
The Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and First Minister of Northern Ireland has announced her intention to resign from both her respective positions.
In a statement issued at 4pm today, Arlene Foster announced that she would step down as party leader on 28 May and would be leaving her position as First Minister a month later, at the end of June.
Her announcement came after a revolt within her party, which saw at least 20 DUP Northern Ireland Assembly members (75%), four DUP MPs and one peer signing a no-confidence letter in her leadership.
She has been leader of the DUP since 2015, becoming First Minister the following year.
However, the Northern Ireland Assembly was dissolved only the year after that, when Sinn Féin collapsed the power-sharing arrangement through the resignation of Martin McGuinness in relation to a renewable energy scandal involve Ms Foster. It did not sit again for another three years.
Only yesterday, Ms Foster had dismissed the rumours that she would face an imminent leadership challenge, saying that stories like this “come up from time to time”, adding: “So we’ll just deal with it and move on because I’ve bigger things to do, including getting us through this Covid pandemic, including listening to the concerns of working-class communities.”
But according to party sources, many in the Unionist cause had been “crying out for leadership” and calling for a “clear direction”. They had reportedly become unhappy with a string of U-turns on key issues.
In announcing her upcoming resignation, Ms Foster committed her support to the next leader. She said:
“It is important to give space over the next few weeks for the Party Officers to make arrangements for the election of a new leader. When elected, I will work with the new leader on transition arrangements.”
She also paid tribute to her own constituency, saying: “It has been the privilege of my life to serve the people of Northern Ireland as their First Minister and to represent my home constituency of Fermanagh/South Tyrone.
“I first entered the Assembly in 2003 and undoubtedly the journey of the last eighteen years has been memorable. There are many people who have helped and supported me throughout that period and I will always been grateful for the kindness and support shown to me by them.”
Ms Foster was the first woman to hold both positions. On this point, she noted:
“My election as Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party broke a glass ceiling and I am glad [it] inspired other women to enter politics and spurred them on to take up elected office.
“I understand the misogynistic criticisms that female public figures have to take and sadly it’s the same for all women in public life.
“I want to encourage you to keep going and don’t let the online lynch mobs get you down.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, following Ms Foster’s announcement, said: “The broad community are impatient for social reform and political change which reflects a modern and progressive society where everyone can feel that they belong on an equal basis.”
This is the first time there has been an internal leadership challenge within the DUP in its 50-year history, so its procedures for carrying out such a process are as yet untested.
Possible candidates for Ms Foster’s replacement are said to include NI Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots, Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson.