RESIGNATION: Arlene Foster waves goodbye as DUP leader and NI first minister

By Bill Heaney

Arlene Foster, who has close connections with Scotland through the Orange Lodge and Rangers Football Club,  has announced her resignation as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and as NI first minister after an internal revolt.

Mrs Foster said she would step down as DUP leader on 28 May and as first minister at the end of June.

It comes as she was facing a revolt among her party’s representatives.

More than 20 DUP Northern Ireland Assembly members and four MPs had signed a letter voicing no-confidence in the leadership.

She became leader of the party in December 2015 and, the following month as leader of Stormont’s largest party, she was appointed first minister of Northern Ireland.

She was the first woman and the youngest person to hold both jobs.

You can read Mrs Foster’s full statement here.

Mrs Foster said it had been the privilege of her life to “serve the people of Northern Ireland as their first minister and to represent my home constituency of Fermanagh/South Tyrone”.

“My election as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party broke a glass ceiling and I am glad to inspired other women to enter politics and spurred them on to take up elected office,” Mrs Foster said.

“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.”

It is understood there is majority support among the party’s Stormont and Westminster ranks – about 80% – for a change in leadership.

It is believed 22 of the DUP’s 27 MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) and four MPs signed a letter of no confidence in Mrs Foster and the party leadership.

Only a small number of the DUP membership – MLAs and MPs – will get to vote in a leadership contest.

Mrs Foster said it was important to give space over the coming weeks for the party officers to make arrangements for the election of a new leader.

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Mrs Foster has endured a turbulent time as DUP leader and the fall-out from Brexit – which the party supported – has put particular pressure on the party’s top brass as it faces having to weather the storm caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol, which imposed a border down the Irish Sea.

It has also been suggested recent changes to NI’s abortion laws and the commitment to implement an Irish language act were causing concerns with some elected DUP representatives ahead of next year’s assembly election.

Mrs Foster was elected as the first female leader of the DUP in December 2015, taking over from Peter Robinson. She was the only candidate.

Her time at the helm has been seen many challenges, having faced Brexit, a botched green energy scandal which subsequently led to the collapse of Stormont for three years and Covid-19.

The aftermath of Brexit has also caused friction both internally and between the party and some of its core voters who are unhappy at the deal which led to the Irish Sea border.The DUP has argued that it has never supported the Northern Ireland protocol and has actively tried to have it overthrown.

For some time there have been rumblings of discontent, but Mrs Foster’s internal enemies have until now lacked the numbers, or the courage, to act against her.

Who could replace Mrs Foster?

Possible contenders to replace Mrs Foster include NI Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots, Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson.

There has been speculation of a split role, with one person for first minister and then a party leader at Westminster.

Mr Poots tweeted that he wanted to thank Mrs Foster for her “service, sacrifice and commitment to the DUP and country”.

Gavin Robinson thanked Mrs Foster for her “dedicated service to Northern Ireland” and said there would be “more to say about what lies ahead in the days to come”.

On her regular visits to Scotland, Mrs Foster attended football matches in Glasgow where she went to watch her favourite team, Rangers, at Ibrox Stadium. She wore her supporter’s scarf.

On another visit, Mrs Foster went to Fife where she took part in an Orange Walk and Rally.

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