Arlene Foster To Step Down As DUP Leader And Northern Ireland’s First Minister After No Confidence Motion
Arlene Foster has announced she will stand down as DUP leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland (Alamy)
Arlene Foster has announced she will step down as DUP leader at the end of May and as Northern Ireland’s First Minister a month later after at least three-quarters of the party's senior elected politicians signed a confidence motion against her.
The Northern Irish assembly members and Westminster MPs called for a leadership contest yesterday amid anger at Foster’s handling of Brexit and other issues.
Despite electoral success since taking over in 2015 the move left her with little choice but to make way for a successor.
This afternoon she released a statement 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.”
She added: “Whilst there have been many difficult and testing times for the Executive it remains my firm view that Northern Ireland has been better served having local Ministers at this time.
“It is unthinkable that we could have faced into the Coronavirus pandemic without our own devolved Ministers in place and no Ministerial direction for Departments.
“As I prepare to depart the political stage it is my view that if Northern Ireland is to prosper then it will only do so built on the foundations of successful and durable devolution.
“That will require continued hard work and real determination and courage on all sides.
“Whilst the focus is on me today I recognise that will pass. For me my decision to enter politics was never about party or person, it was about speaking up for the voiceless and building a Northern Ireland which could prosper and be at peace within the United Kingdom.”
Foster became the first woman to lead the DUP when she was chosen to succeed the party's former leader Peter Robinson six years ago.
Her leadership has been at times turbulent, defined by the collapse of Northern Ireland's power-sharing government in 2017, which resulted in Stormont being out of action for three years.
But after that year’s general election the DUP found itself holding the balance of power in Westminster as they signed a confidence and supply agreement with Theresa May’s Conservative government.
They used their leverage to push for a harder Brexit, but after Boris Johnson’s landslide victory allowed him to move ahead without their support and sign up to the Northern Ireland Protocol, which the DUP did not support.
Foster has borne the brunt of criticism for how the divorce deal with the EU is being implemented, with unionists unhappy at the province's relationship with the rest of the UK and the new trade barriers in the Irish Sea.
On top of Brexit there is also anger at Foster from unionists over recent changes to Northern Ireland's abortion laws, and the commitment to implement an Irish language act.
The Belfast News Letter reported several DUP constituency associations had written letters after she abstained on a recent vote on a motion calling for a ban on gay conversion therapy.
She also survived the the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal, known as “cash for ash”, after an inquiry last year into the botched green energy scheme involving wood pellet burning found it cost the public purse up to £500million.
In her statement, delivered on television, Foster said: “I am the first to recognise there have been ups and downs over the last five and a half years.
“The 2016 Assembly election result and our Party’s best ever Westminster result in 2017 stand out amongst the high points when the electorate sent a clear message that they wanted to keep Northern Ireland moving forward.”
“The Confidence and Supply Agreement was able to bring £1billion of extra spending for everyone in Northern Ireland.”
She added: “Of course as with highs there were lows along the way.
“The three years without devolution caused untold harm to our public services and the RHI Inquiry was a difficult period.
“The Protocol being foisted upon Northern Ireland against the will of unionists has served to destabilise Northern Ireland in more recent times.”
Defending her own record she finished by saying: “I have sought to lead the Party and Northern Ireland away from division and towards a better path.
“There are people in Northern Ireland with a British identity, others are Irish, others are Northern Irish, others are a mixture of all three and some are new and emerging.
“We must all learn to be generous to each other, live together and share this wonderful country.”