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DUP leadership: Arlene Foster set to replace Peter Robinson in January

Published 09/12/2015

Arlene Foster is so far the only DUP member to put forward nomination papers to replace retiring leader Peter Robinson
Arlene Foster is so far the only DUP member to put forward nomination papers to replace retiring leader Peter Robinson

Stormont Finance Minister Arlene Foster looks set to become the uncontested leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.

Mrs 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.

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

Mrs Foster said she had been "humbled" by the level of support.

She said: "I am fully aware of the awesome challenge and indeed great responsibility that comes from being leader of the largest unionist party and indeed the largest party in Northern Ireland but I am very much looking forward to that prospect."

Mr Robinson, 66, announced his intention to resign as DUP leader and Stormont First Minister last month, days after signing a political deal with Sinn Fein and the British and Irish Governments to stabilise the rocky power-sharing administration in Belfast.

If Mrs Foster is elected party leader there would be a degree of expectation that she would become Northern Ireland's new First Minister as well.

She added: "I do of course have still a process to go through in terms of the electoral college and the ratification by the executive of the party but if that goes according to plan I look forward to leading the party in a positive way with a positive vision for Northern Ireland in the future.

"We have much to celebrate and there is much good work to do."

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.

Peter Robinson pictured with his wife Iris after his release from Crumlin Road Prison where he spent four days in jail for his non payment of road tax in opposition to the Anglo-irish Agreement Sept 1987
Peter Robinson pictured with his wife Iris after his release from Crumlin Road Prison where he spent four days in jail for his non payment of road tax in opposition to the Anglo-irish Agreement Sept 1987
DUP MPs Iris and Peter Robinson are one of the best-known couples in Ulster politics. Here, in extracts from a brilliant new biography, Iris: An Intimate Portrait, the mother-of-three reveals how the death of her father when she was just five years old plunged the family into greater hardship - and the amazing discovery she made about her father years later. When Iris and Peter opted to spend their honeymoon in Majorca
Peter Robinson of the DUP pictured in the Israeli Border Area with AK47 rifles while on a fact finding mission to the Middle East. Pacemaker Press Intl. Dec. 1984
Enthronement of Archbishop John Armstrong at Armagh. Peter Robinson arrested outside Cathedral for trying to break through a police cordon. Robinson, Ian Paisley and Jonhy McQuade as well as DUP supporters were arrested. They were held in custody for just one hour. Paisley etc. were there to protest at the presence of Premier Charles Haughey from the south who they claimed was willingly harbouring wanted terrorists. Pacemaker Press Intl. 7th May 1980.....316/80/BW
Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson are taken away by police in Armagh after protesting a vist by Charles Haughey in 1980
rev Ian paisley leader of dup/ ralley at stormont peter robinson and ian paisley who addressed the crowd at stormont 23/11/1981
Peter Robinson (second from left) and Noel Little (right) at an Ulster Resistance rally in 1986
Ian Paisley with Peter Robinson
Robinson in the 1980s
First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness greet Rory McIlroy at Stormont yesterday
DUP leader Peter Robinson with his wife Iris Robinson pictured at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, April 18 2008
MP Peter Robinson of the DUP speaking to Belfast Telegraph reporter Chris Thornton yesterday
File photo dated 01/10/08 Northern Ireland's new First Minister Peter Robinson and his wife Iris kiss behind his desk after he was nominated as First Minister in the Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast. Robinson and his wife Iris munched their way through 30,000 of food claimed for in their MPs' expenses over a four year period, according to the Daily Telegraph. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday May 15, 2009. MPs are allowed to claim up to 400 a month for food. See PA story POLITICS Expenses Ulster. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
Northern Ireland's new First Minister Peter Robinson celebrates with his wife Iris at his desk at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Northern Ireland, Thursday, June 5, 2008. The Northern Ireland Assembly has elected Protestant politician Peter Robinson to be the new leader of a power-sharing government alongside Catholics. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Democratic Unionist Party leader Peter Robinson, center, Nigel Donaldson deputy leader, left, and Iris Robinson react to delegates at the annual party conference, in Armagh Northern Ireland, Saturday, Nov. 1, 2008. The DUP leader was speaking at his first conference as party leader and Northern Ireland First Minister. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, left and First Minister Peter Robinson, centre, greet US President George Bush, right, to the Stormont Castle in Belfast on the second day of the President's official visit to the UK. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday June 16, 2008. US president George Bush arrived in Northern Ireland today to meet the politicians heading its power-sharing government. Democratic Unionist First Minister Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will welcome the president and the First Lady at Stormont Castle in Belfast. See PA story POLITICS Bush. Photo credit should read: Stephen Wilson/PA Wire
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 9/5/2001: Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson at the launch of the DUP election Campaign Picture By Stephen Wilson/Pacemaker
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are all smiles as they talk to Europe team captain Paul McGinley during the Morning Fourballs of the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
From left, William McCrea, Ivan Foster, Jim Allister, Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson
Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson
Former DUP MP and MLA Iris Robinson at Stormont with her husband, First Minister Peter Robinson
DUP leader Peter Robinson congratulates Alliance’s Naomi Long after her victory in 2010
Peter Robinson being held in Clontibret, Monaghan
Queen Elizabeth II shaking hands with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
DUP leader Peter Robinson says the BBC has offered nothing new
Peter Robinson at Dundalk Court in August 1986 after the invasion at Clontibret
Ian Paisley announcing in 2008 that his replacement as DUP party leader will be Peter Robinson with Nigel Dodds being his deputy. Pic Colm Lenaghan / Pacemaker
Gerry Adams eats the cake he baked for Peter Robinson's 65th birthday
Canvassing together: Ian Paisley (centre), leader of the Democratic Unionists with deputy Peter Robinson (left) and his wife Iris Robinson as they embark on the election campaign in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, Monday April 25, 2005.
President Barack Obama is flanked by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness at the White House’s St Patrick’s celebrations in 2013
Martin McGuinness (right) claimed he and Peter Robinson were both behind the project
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. End of the Carson Trial Phase 11. Stormont Rally. Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson. 28/3/81. 270/81/c
Sunday Life News Ian Paisley Death Pull Out DUP leader Ian Paisley with MPs Peter Robinson and William McCrea launching their election campaign in 1996
United stand: Peter Robinson and Gerry Adams at the funeral of Constable Ronan Kerr.
The Sunningdale talks of 1973
Prime Minister David Cameron (centre) talks as Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (left) and Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson (right) listen during a press conference in the garden of 10 Downing Street in central London.

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.

"When I balanced it all up and looked at the pros and cons and the arguments for and against, I just felt it was better there shouldn't be a contest at this time," he said.

"I am willing to work with Arlene once she becomes leader."

The DUP's MLAs, MPs and sole MEP are due to meet to officially select their new leader in an east Belfast hotel next week.

Mrs Foster, who stood in as First Minister for six weeks in 2010, said her style of leadership would differ from Mr Robinson.

She said: "I am of course following not just a big act but an enormous act and I fully recognise that of course. But by the very nature of being a different person and a different gender I will have a different style there is no doubt about it."

As the deadline for nominations closed at 5pm on Wednesday, Mr Robinson took to Twitter to confirm Mrs Foster was the sole candidate.

He said: "The proposal to endorse Arlene as party leader will be put to a specially convened meeting of the DUP electoral college.

"The resolution of the electoral college shall go to the party's central executive committee for ratification immediately thereafter.

"I look forward to handing over my @DUPleader handle to the new leader.

"On 11th Jan - the first Assembly day after Christmas recess - I shall stand down as First Minister and my successor will be appointed."

If appointed First Minister, Mrs Foster, a mother of three, will be the first female leader of the devolved Stormont administration.

Any difficulties in sharing power with Sinn Fein would be "set aside" for the good of the country, she said.

"That has been a challenge and it has been a challenge since we have been in government with Sinn Fein.

"I know what it is to work alongside people with whom I have fundamental differences but I do so in the knowledge that it is good for Northern Ireland and it is good for the people of Northern Ireland and therefore any difficulty I have in relation to that I have to set them to the side to do what is right for Northern Ireland," said Mrs Foster.

Her relationship with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will also come under scrutiny after her predecessor Ian Paisley and Mr McGuinness were dubbed the "chuckle brothers" while Mr Robinson and the Sinn Fein MLA were known as "the brothers grim".

She said: "He is no stranger to me.

"I have worked alongside him in the Executive and will continue to do so because I believe it is right for the good of Northern Ireland."

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