Arlene Foster has announced that she intends to step down as the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and as First Minister of Northern Ireland.
In a statement published on Wednesday afternoon, Foster said,
“It has been the privilege of my life to serve the people of Northern Ireland as their First Minister and to represent my home constituency of Fermanagh/South Tyrone. I first entered the Assembly in 2003 and undoubtedly the journey of the last eighteen years has been memorable. There are many people who have helped and supported me throughout that period and I will always been grateful for the kindness and support shown to me by them.”
The DUP leader announced she would step down from her post on 28 May, before resigning as First Minister of Northern Ireland at the end of June.
Mrs Foster’s resignation comes after an internal revolt in her own party, with 75% of the DUP’s Northern Ireland Assembly members signing a letter demanding a leadership contest. A number of the party’s constituency associations also submitted letters raising concerns over the leadership’s handling of the Northern Ireland Protocol and other issues.
In the statement announcing her resignation, she said “I am the first to recognise there have been ups and downs over the last five and a half years.” She also described her election as DUP leader as having ‘broke a glass ceiling’, saying;
“My election as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party broke a glass ceiling and I am glad inspired other women to enter politics and spurred them on to take up elected office.
“I understand the misogynistic criticisms that female public figures have to take and sadly it’s the same for all women in public life.
“I want to encourage you to keep going and don’t let the online lynch mobs get you down.
“To the hundreds of Party supporters who have been in touch over the last few days, I say a sincere thank you for the opportunities to serve you and the support you have given me. For almost five and a half years I have been incredibly humbled to have the opportunity to lead the Democratic Unionist Party.”
Mrs Foster has been the Leader of the DUP since December 2015 and was appointed as First Minister the following month, becoming the youngest person and first woman to hold both roles.