Arlene Foster has announced that she will step down as leader of the Democratic Unionist party and Prime Minister of Northern Ireland after a sudden internal party revolt.
Foster issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying she would step aside as DUP leader on May 28 and as prime minister at the end of June, sparking new uproar in a region hit by protests over the Sea of Post-Brexit Ireland.
The announcement came just a day after the majority of the DUP’s 27-member Stormont assembly and reportedly four of its eight Westminster MPs signed letters calling for an unprecedented leadership contest.
Foster said he had notified the party chairman of his decision. “It is important to leave space during the next few weeks for the party leaders to make the necessary arrangements for the election of a new leader. When elected, I will work with the new leader on the transitional arrangements. “
The DUP brought down its leader to try to avoid a backlash from voters in next year’s assembly elections. After supporting Brexit and paving Boris Johnson’s path to Downing Street, the party is accused of complicity in the Northern Ireland protocol of the EU exit agreement. Overthrowing Foster appears to be an attempt to turn the page.
Free Presbyterians, evangelical Christians who make up a dwindling but still important part of the party’s base, were also angered when Foster and two DUP ministers abstained last week in an assembly vote to ban gay conversion “therapy.” .
The coup marked an abrupt and humiliating end to a term that began in 2015 amid excitement and goodwill: Foster was the youngest person and the first woman to lead the DUP and Northern Ireland, only to curdle in a grudge. and disappointment.
The “money for ashes” scandal and the confrontations with Sinn Féin collapsed the distribution of power for three years. It revived last year only to be swallowed up by Covid-19 and the aftermath of Brexit, leaving the prime minister as a beleaguered figure vilified by nationalists and undermined within the DUP.
Foster’s departure is likely to open a new and uncertain chapter for Northern Ireland, which faces a DUP leadership career and a change of command in the Stormont executive amid a pandemic and widespread union anger over the trade border. from the post-Brexit region with Britain, that they fear will weaken the nation’s position in the UK.
There is no obvious successor for Foster, but MPs Sammy Wilson, Gavin Robinson and Jeffrey Donaldson have been briefed along with Edwin Poots, a member of the Stormont assembly and minister of agriculture. On Wednesday he withdrew from a planned meeting with his Irish ministerial counterpart, Charlie McConalogue, in a move widely seen as a nod to DUP hardliners.
Under party rules, an electorate of 41 members of the assembly, parliamentarians and peers will elect the new leader.
Foster’s departure suggests a crisis in union leadership on the cusp of Northern Ireland’s centenary (commemorations to take place next week) and in the run-up to the season of loyal marches, which many fear will spark further unrest in streets.
His resignation statement took on a conciliatory tone, often absent from his previously combative political rhetoric. “It has been the privilege of my life to serve the people of Northern Ireland as their Prime Minister and to represent my local Fermanagh / South Tyrone constituency,” he said.
“As I prepare to leave the political stage, I am of the opinion that if Northern Ireland is to prosper, it will only do so on the basis of successful and long-lasting decentralization. That will take continued hard work and real determination and courage from all parties.
“Although the focus is on me today, I recognize that it will pass. For me, my decision to enter politics was never about a party or a person, it was about defending the voiceless and building a Northern Ireland that can prosper and be at peace within the UK. I am the first to acknowledge that there have been ups and downs in the last five and a half years. “
Its elevation had broken a glass ceiling, he said. “I am glad that I inspired other women to enter politics and incited them to elected office. I understand the misogynistic criticism that female public figures must take and sadly, it is the same for all women in public life. I want to encourage you to keep going and don’t let the online lynch mobs put you off. “
Foster grew up near the border in rural Fermanagh County, where Protestants felt besieged by IRA attacks during the riots. Her father, a part-time farmer and police officer, was shot and seriously injured outside the family home.
Figures from across the political spectrum inside and outside Northern Ireland paid tribute. Johnson thanked Foster for “his dedication to the people of Northern Ireland for many years.” The prime minister tweeted: “She will continue to play a vital role as prime minister until June and I hope she will remain in public service for years to come.”
Brandon Lewis, Northern Ireland’s secretary of state, called Foster a dedicated civil servant who inspired women.
Micheál Martin, a Taoiseach from Ireland, said he had worked hard in a tense environment. “As a person who has personally experienced the suffering that violence brings, Arlene knows more than most how difficult it is, but also how important it is, to work together for peace and prosperity for all.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald expressed her sympathy but did not praise Foster. “Today is certainly a difficult day for Arlene and I extend my regards to her and her family.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism