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Arlene Foster becomes Northern Ireland's first female DUP leader

Arlene Foster has been elected as first female party leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.

The party's MPs and assembly members elected Ms Foster during a meeting at the Park Avenue Hotel in east Belfast on Thursday evening.

Later in the evening, the DUP's 90-member executive will be asked to ratify the appointment.

Ms Foster was the only candidate for leader. She replaces Peter Robinson, who announced his plans to step down as DUP leader and Northern Ireland First Minister in November.

Ms Foster, was the sole nominee to replace retiring Peter Robinson who will stand down on January 11 when the Northern Ireland Assembly returns from its Christmas recess.

Ms Foster said: "The style of leadership may change but the fundamental values of this party will not.

"I want to take our cause and our case to every part of the province.

"I want to make the case for the Union to every class and creed.

"I want us to help make the lives of our people better."

Read Arlene Foster's statement in full

She said it was "truly humbling to follow in the footsteps of political giants like Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson."

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers was one of the first to offer congratulations.

Ms Villiers said: "Warmest congratulations to Arlene Foster on her appointment as leader of the DUP.

"I am sure that Arlene will be committed to doing the right thing for everyone in Northern Ireland.

"As a Minister, Arlene worked hard at home and around the world to secure jobs and investment. She also played a very important role in securing the Fresh Start Agreement and putting the Executive’s finances on a more stable footing.

"I very much look forward to working with her in building a brighter, more secure, future for everyone in Northern Ireland."

Prime Minister David Cameron said on Twitter: "Congratulations to Arlene Foster on her appt as DUP leader. I look fwd to working with her in building a bright & secure future for NI."







Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness tweeted: "Congratulations to Arlene Foster on her election as the new @DUPleader. I will work positively with her for the benefit of All our people."

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA, who made a high-profile defection from the Ulster Unionist Party in 2004, was endorsed by the party's deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, who ruled himself out of the running for the top job.

Mr Dodds' decision not to run came as a major shock, as there had been widespread speculation that he would become the new party leader and would then nominate Mrs Foster as the new First Minister.

DUP leader in waiting Arlene Foster (L) jokes with DUP MLA Emma Pengelly (R) at the Park Avenue hotel ahead of the Democratic Unionist Party electoral college meeting on December 17, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
DUP leader in waiting Arlene Foster (L) jokes with DUP MLA Emma Pengelly (R) at the Park Avenue hotel ahead of the Democratic Unionist Party electoral college meeting on December 17, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson had originally said he was not going to run for leader and backed Mr Dodds for the post. But, after his colleague signalled he was not going to run, he said he was going to reconsider his decision.

Mr Wilson said after reflecting on the matter he still felt it best not to stand.

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Kyle Paisley, the son of the founding father of the DUP welcomed Ms Foster's appointment saying she would bring a breath of fresh air.

Mr Paisley, brother to Ian and son of the late Lord Bannside who led the party for almost four decades, currently ministers in the Suffolk area of England.

He said he was "glad" to see Mrs Foster take on the party's leadership.

Speaking to the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme, he said: "She is a very capable individual. I have not studied her political career in any great depth but the little I have seen her do I think she is very capable.

"I think she will bring a breath of fresh air to it, as there has never been a women leading unionism in Northern Ireland.

"It'll be new for Northern Ireland, new for unionism, but that might broaden the appeal of the party to have that."

On Nigel Dodds, Rev Paisley said it wasn't surprising that the deputy leader did not run for the party leadership as he had "made his reasons abundantly clear".

Asked if he was sorry the North Belfast MP did not run for the position, Rev Paisley responded: "I'm glad to see Arlene Foster get it as it brings a different perspective to unionism that it hasn't had before.

"That's always good."

Earlier this year, Rev Paisley had said that the DUP might not survive unless there was a change in the leadership.

Asked what direction he felt the DUP would take under Arlene Foster, he said: "That's for the party to decide.

"I don't think Arlene Foster will compromise her unionism, I think it will remain a traditional unionist party under her."

Asked if the party may become more liberal, he said "it may well do".

He continued: "It may have to respond to the changes in society, but there are some things I wouldn't change just because society changes.

"And there are some things that should never change just to keep everybody happy.

"There are issues that you have to standby, regardless if you have to swim against the stream on them."

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