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Arlene Foster set to quit DUP after stepping down as leader: reports

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Arlene Foster. Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Arlene Foster. Liam McBurney/PA Wire

PA

Arlene Foster. Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Arlene Foster is set to quit the DUP when she stands down as Northern Ireland's first minister in the coming weeks, according to reports.

It is understood Mrs Foster thinks the DUP is no longer the party she joined from the Ulster Unionists in 2004 and it is moving in a different direction.

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA tendered her resignation as DUP leader and First Minister on Wednesday and said she was preparing to depart the political stage.

The outgoing Stormont leader will remain in post as First Minister until the end of June. Next month, however, she will relinquish her party leadership role.

 

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BBC News NI is reporting Mrs Foster is not only quitting as an MLA but also cutting ties with the DUP. 

Mrs Foster has led the DUP since December 2015, taking over from Peter Robinson. She was appointed first minister a month later, becoming the first woman and the youngest person to hold both jobs.

It is understood she informed her constituency association in Fermanagh and South Tyrone of her decision yesterday. 

A source close to her recounted emotional scenes as Mrs Foster informed colleagues that she would be stepping down, shortly before the news was made public on Wednesday. 

The source told the Belfast Telegraph the swift nature of her downfall had left Mrs Foster shocked and upset. “She was in bits. She just didn’t see it coming,” they said.

Meanwhile South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford has become the first DUP member to publicly announce his support for leadership candidate Edwin Poots.

Yesterday Mr Poots spoke of his pride in his homeland as he announced he is to contest the DUP leadership battle.

“I love this country and its people and I look forward to engaging with party colleagues in the days ahead,” he wrote on Twitter.

The Lagan Valley MLA also posted a video hailing the Northern Ireland centenary, which will be officially marked this weekend, as well as his reasons for running.

Mr Poots also paid tribute to Mrs Foster, who was back at work yesterday as she co-chaired a meeting of the Executive.

Another senior figure tipped to throw his hat into the ring is Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. And there were unconfirmed reports last night that Gavin Robinson, who had been widely touted as a possible candidate, has opted not to stand in the race.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster earlier, Economy Minister Diane Dodds declined to be drawn on her own future as a minister following Mrs Foster's resignation.
"Well, you know, everyone serves at the discretion of the leader and I accept and respect that," she said.

"For now I will continue to do my job as the Economy Minister to set about helping the economy to recover and rebuild and reboot."

Mrs Dodds also paid tribute to the outgoing DUP leader.

"She has been a great leader of the party and of unionism," she said.
"Arlene has always been a great defender of unionism and leader of the party and First Minister of Northern Ireland.

"The party will now set about the process of electing its new leader and after that it is an internal party matter and we will continue that process next week."

Mrs Dodds insisted any new leader would need to appeal to a "broad" range of unionists.
"That new leader will have to have a broad coalition of support for the Union, and will have to build that broad coalition of support for the Union within Northern Ireland. And of course we know that they will be able to do that," she said.


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