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Arlene Foster's 'service' to Northern Ireland praised as she stands down as DUP leader and First Minister

  • Arlene Foster to resign as party leader on May 28
  • Steps down as First Minister by end of June

Politicians across Northern Ireland have paid tribute to Arlene Foster's "service" to politics, after the DUP leader announced she is to step down as party leader and as First Minister.

The First Minister said she will step down as leader of her party on May 28 and as First Minister by the end of June.

It follows intense speculation over her position after the revelation on Tuesday that at least 75% of her party MLAs had signed a letter expressing no confidence in her leadership.

In a statement released by the DUP on Wednesday afternoon, she said would give party officers the space to arrange an election for a new leader.

"As first minister it is important that I complete work on a number of important issues for Northern Ireland alongside other Executive colleagues," she said.

"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."

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Arlene Foster with Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA)

Arlene Foster with Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA

Arlene Foster with Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA)

Responding, deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said she wished Mrs Foster well on hearing when she informed her of her intention to step down.

"I have worked alongside Arlene Foster this past year in what has been a difficult and challenging time for everyone with the unexpected onset of the Covid pandemic," she said.

"Throughout the pandemic I acknowledge the efforts Arlene Foster has made as First Minister, and the service that she has given in working with the rest of the Executive as we have battled the biggest health crisis in a generation."

She said the next leader of the party had to acknowledge the change in the political landscape and the need for reform.

"The public and electorate want the parties to enter into a new era and make politics work in their interests. This is certainly my top priority now and in the time ahead."

Michelle O'Neill also warned the incoming DUP successor that they must be willing to work with the Executive.

"Regardless of who comes into the leadership position, if they want to work in the Executive they have to be committed to power sharing," she said in a press briefing.

"Any new leader that comes in will have to live up to those responsibilities.

"Regardless of who comes forward, unless they are committed to power sharing it won't work. The Good Friday Agreement is here to stay. There is no alternative, we must work together."

Party colleagues of Mrs Foster within the DUP also expressed their regrets around her departure from the role.

The Education Minister Peter Weir said: "I have known her and been a friend and colleague for over 30 years. She has devoted her adult life to Northern Ireland and to unionism.

"I wish her and her family all the best in the next stage of her life."

While east Belfast MP Gavin Robinson wrote online: "She has been a constant source of encouragement to me and my colleagues throughout the province. Facing difficulties with courage and determination; and sacrificing so much over all of us over her 18 years in elected politics, I pay tribute to her, her leadership and her commitment to our country."

The TUV leader Jim Allister described it as a "very difficult day" for Arlene Foster following her resignation.

"The speed of her dispatch...will add to that hurt. Politics is never an easy place. I wish her well. I have known Arlene since our days in the legal profession. I do want to wish her and her family all the best going forward," he said.

Reaction to her announcement also came from beyond Northern Ireland. The Taoiseach sent his "best wishes" and said her time as leader "sent a strong message to women about what can be achieved".

The Secretary of State Brandon Lewis described her as a "dedicated public servant".

"There are many young people, particularly young women, who will be inspired by her example to follow a path into politics," he said.

"I wish her all the best and look forward to continuing to work with her in the days and weeks ahead, delivering for all the people of Northern Ireland."

How the day unfolded:

Belfast Telegraph


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