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by Andrew Learmonth
28 April 2021
Arlene Foster to stand down as First Minister of Northern Ireland

Arlene Foster to stand down as First Minister of Northern Ireland

Arlene Foster is to step down as Northern Ireland’s first minister after losing the confidence of her party. 

In a statement, Foster said serving the people of Northern Ireland had been "the privilege of my life".

Her resignation comes after increasing unhappiness over her leadership. 

At least 21 DUP assembly members and four of the party’s MPs signed a letter on Tuesday calling for a leadership contest. 

In a statement, Foster said she would stand down at the end of June.

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.

"As first minister it is important that I complete work on a number of important issues for Northern Ireland alongside other executive colleagues. Northern Ireland and its people have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and there remains more work to be done to steer us through the pandemic and to lessen its impact on the lives of everyone.

"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.” 

She added: "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.”

The outgoung First Minister continued: "The future of unionism and Northern Ireland will not be found in division, it will only be found in sharing this place we all are privileged to call home."

Foster – who has been in charge of the DUP since 2015 – has had a tumultuous time in office. She was praised for securing a £1bn confidence and supply deal to prop up Theresa May’s minority government after the 2017 election. 

However, she was later critical of the then prime minister’s Brexit deal, which ultimately would have led to a border in the Irish sea.

When Boris Johnson – who was at the time a backbencher – told the DUP conference in 2018 that there should be no sea border, she threw her weight behind him.

To the anger of many in the unionist community, the protocol agreed by Johnson and the EU led to checks on goods coming into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK - effectively a sea border.

Last week, Foster also upset many of the party’s religious base when she abstained on an assembly vote to ban gay conversion therapy.

There’s also unhappiness too about Northern Ireland’s abortion laws and the commitment to implement an Irish language act.

Foster was also in charge of the DUP when the power-sharing agreement in Stormont fell apart, following the 'cash-for-ash' finanical scandal in 2017.

It left Northern Ireland without devolution for three years.

It was only last year when she was re-elected first minister with Sinn Fein's Michelle O’Neill elected deputy first minister.

The process to elect a new leader should be relatively brief, with only the party’s assembly members, MPs and peers allowed to vote. 

Foster grew up near the border with the Republic of Ireland in rural County Fermanagh. Her father, a farmer and part-time police officer, was shot and badly injured outside the family home.

Fosterwas the first woman and the youngest person to be both the first minister and the leader of the DUP.

In her statement, she said: "My election as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party broke a glass ceiling and I am glad to have 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."

Read the most recent article written by Andrew Learmonth - Hundreds protest Home Office immigration raid in Glasgow

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