Sinn Fein has called on the incoming DUP leader to be aware of the desire for progressive political change.
Vice president Michelle O’Neill has wished Arlene Foster and her family well, in a statement following her resignation as DUP leader and First Minister.
But the deputy First Minister also highlighted the issues of powersharing, women’s rights, LGBT equality, and the Irish language as key issues facing her replacement.
Ms O’Neill said: “I spoke to Arlene today and she informed me of her decision to step down. I wished her and and her family well.
“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.
“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.
“It is now a matter for the DUP to choose a replacement.”
I have spoken with Arlene Foster today and she informed me of her decision to step down. I have wished Arlene and her family well in the time ahead.— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) April 28, 2021
Politics and Power sharing must work and deliver for everyone.
Mrs Foster said she will stand down as party leader on May 28 and as First Minister at the end of June.
The announcement comes 24 hours after an sizeable internal heave against her by DUP politicians unhappy with her leadership.
It has been speculated that Ms Foster’s more moderate views, relative to those of her party, on issues such as LGBT and abortion played a role in her downfall.
Ms O’Neill moved quickly to put those issues on the agenda for Ms Foster’s successor.
“The broad community are impatient for social reform and political change which reflects a modern and progressive society where everyone can feel that they belong on an equal basis,” Ms O’Neill said.
Speaking at a press conference later, Ms O’Neill said anyone who comes into the leadership position “must be committed to powersharing.”
“Regardless of who comes into the leadership position, if they want to work with the Executive and with Executive colleagues, then they have to be committed to powersharing” she said.
“That’s working together, that’s about politics delivering for everybody, that’s about progression.
“It’s about delivering for all citizens who live here. So any new leader that comes in will have to live up to those responsibilities.”
She added: “The Good Friday Agreement is here to stay, the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are here to stay. There is no alternative. We must work together and deliver for all people.”
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald also called for a commitment to powersharing and delivering on the Irish Language Act.
She added: “”Unionism is at a crossroads. The inbuilt unionist majority is now a thing of the past.
“Progressive social changes such as marriage equality are happening. Brexit and Covid-19 are also driving the politics of change. There is no going back.”
Unionism is at a crossroads. Their inbuilt majority is a thing of the past. Powersharing, building an inclusive society is the future. This is the real world which awaits the new DUP leader. Good wishes to @DUPleader in her last weeks in office— Mary Lou McDonald (@MaryLouMcDonald) April 28, 2021
Ms O’Neill also praised Ms Foster, saying the pair had worked well together during the crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic.
She said: “I think we’ve had a very decent relationship. Challenging at times, of course, we come from two very different political backgrounds.
“But I think we’ve worked very well together in trying to lead us through this pandemic, albeit, probably one of the most challenging times that, today’s generation of political leader has been through.
“I want to acknowledge all of that because it has been a very difficult year.”
She said the Executive “will have to monitor very carefully” what happens with regards to the pandemic in the coming days, with lockdown restrictions easing.
“We are a couple note of the current restrictions, we are in a good space in terms of the Covid crisis. We have to be very careful and continue to make progress” she said.
“Arlene Foster has said she intends to remain in this post until the end of June. So that’s two more months of trying to lead us out of this pandemic and hopefully into brighter days ahead.”