Arlene Foster steps down as DUP leader and Northern Ireland's First Minister

28 April 2021, 16:04 | Updated: 28 April 2021, 20:29

Arlene Foster has announced she will be stepping down as DUP leader and Northern Ireland's First Minister
Arlene Foster has announced she will be stepping down as DUP leader and Northern Ireland's First Minister. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

DUP leader Arlene Foster is stepping down as Northern Ireland's First Minister amid calls for a leadership contest.

In a statement, Mrs Foster said she will be officially stepping down as party leader on 28th May and as First Minister at the end of June.

She said: "A short time ago I called the Party Chairman to inform him that I intend to step down as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party on the twenty-eighth of May and as First Minister of Northern Ireland at the end of June.

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"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."

Yesterday, Mrs Foster played down suggestions her position as party leader was under threat.

"Stories on leadership come up from time to time, and it's one of those times," said Stormont's First Minister.

There has been growing discontent among DUP members about Mrs Foster's leadership in recent months.

The primary source of concern is her handling of the Brexit process. The DUP is facing anger from the wider loyalist and unionist community for the introduction of an Irish Sea border.

Critics have accused Mrs Foster of failing to use the party's influence at Westminster - particularly during its confidence and supply deal with the Conservatives - to secure a Brexit deal that saw Northern Ireland leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK.

Poor polling numbers have exacerbated the discontent within the party faithful.

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Mrs Foster's decision to abstain in vote on gay conversion therapy last week appears to have further agitated sections of the party's grassroots.

Her statement announcing her resignation continued: "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 thorough 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.

"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."

More to follow...