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Editor's Viewpoint

Backing for Foster is withering away



Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster

DUP leader Arlene Foster is apparently hanging onto power by her fingernails as a clear majority of the party's MLAs and MPs are demanding a vote of no confidence in her.

While she has put a brave face on the challenge, it seems certain that support for her is withering away.

Party sources are saying that 22 of the 28 MLAs, four of the eight MPs and one Lord have signed the demand for her and her deputy Lord Dodds to go.

If accurate it means the days of her leadership, which began in December 2015, are strictly numbered.

The genesis of the push against Mrs Foster may have been an exclusive Belfast Telegraph poll published in February which showed support for the DUP haemorrhaging to 18% with the TUV picking up votes from the hard-line supporters of the party.

Alliance was only 1% behind with Sinn Fein sitting on a comfortable 24%.

Those results - which few believe would be replicated exactly in the next Assembly election - sent shockwaves through the party and may have encouraged critics of the leader to put their heads above the parapet.

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She carries the can, deserved or not, for the fall out over Brexit which the party alone in Northern Ireland supported, as well as the RHI scandal which led to the three-year suspension of the Assembly. And there is a feeling that she has not taken a tough enough line over the NI Protocol which has seen loyalists take to the streets in disgraceful violent scenes.

Others will argue that she did not rein in the more dissident members of the party who constantly challenged her on various issues.

While the discontent in DUP ranks may seem like an issue primarily concerning elected members and supporters, Mrs Foster's role as First Minister makes it important for everyone in Northern Ireland. If she goes who will replace her and will they take a more hard-line and confrontational stance, particularly against Sinn Fein, putting power-sharing under strain?

In her defence it has to be said that, in the main, she has steered a sensible path during the coronavirus pandemic.

There have been clear tensions with the Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, particularly over Ms O'Neill's attendance at the Bobby Storey funeral, but somehow they have managed put the good of the province before party agendas.

Some might see a whiff of misogyny in the current putsch but it smacks more of self-preservation by unionists who fear a republican First Minister.

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