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Arlene Foster is to stand down as First Minister of Northern Ireland

75% of DUP MLAs signed a vote of no confidence

Arlene Foster is to stand down as First Minister of Northern Ireland and as leader of the the DUP, the biggest unionist party in the North.

Elected since 2003, Ms. Foster will stand down from her role as DUP leader on May 20th before standing down from her duties as First Minister at the end of June.

In a statement on the party website, Foster 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.”

Reflecting on her time in office, Foster said: “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.”

The move comes following significant pressure and criticism on Foster over the past few days for her mishandling over issues such as the Irish Sea Border and her abstention from last week’s debate on banning conversion therapy in Northern Ireland.

Yesterday it was revealed that 75 per cent of DUP MLAs had signed a letter of no confidence in Foster’s leadership, spearheading her resignation and a leadership contest within the party ranks.

This isn’t the first time throughout her leadership that Arlene Foster has faced calls to resign. The First Minister fell under immense criticism following her role in the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal which brought down the devolved administration in January 2017.

Further calls came following the DUP’s decision to enter a Confidence and Supply Agreement coalition with the Conservative Party in 2017 and again following blows to the party’s performance in the 2019 General Election which seen more nationalists than unionists elected to the House of Commons to represent Northern Ireland.

Calling on more young people and especially women to get involved in politics, Foster added to her statement that “Politics and debate is the only path to effect change in society. You will and can be the MPs, MLAs and Councillors of tomorrow.”

However, in her closing remarks, the outgoing First Minister pleaded with voters and her party successor to encourage unity as future challenges are addressed. “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.”

Political unionism has faced two blows under Foster’s leadership in both the 2017 Stormont election and the 2019 Westminster election. With tensions still being navigated between unionist discontentment with the Sea Border and recently increased discourse on a border poll for Irish unity, the future of unionism may well lean on the shoulders of her successor.

Featured image: Press Eye Ltd/Shutterstock 

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