It has been confirmed that DUP leader and First Minister, Arlene Foster will step down as DUP leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland.
8 of the party’s 18 constituency associations submitted letters of concern over the leadership’s handling of the Northern Ireland Protocol and other issues’. According to TheJournal.ie, ‘there has been growing discontentment with Foster’s handling of Brexit negotiations and the Northern Ireland Protocol’.
In a statement, she said she has informed the party chairman that she will step down as leader of the DUP on 28 May and as First Minister at the end of June.
She said it is important to "give space" over the next few weeks for arrangements to be made for the election of a new leader.
The statement 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 be grateful for the kindness and support shown to me by them."
The statement went on to say that while she prepares to depart politics, it is her view that Northern Ireland will only prosper if it is built on the foundations of successful and durable devolution.
That will require "continued hard work and real determination and courage on all sides" Mrs Foster said.
There has been growing discontentment with Foster’s handling of Brexit negotiations and the Northern Ireland Protocol.
According to a statement Foster said, ‘a short time ago I called the Party Chairman to inform him that I intend to step down as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party on the twenty-eighth of May and as First Minister of Northern Ireland at the end of June… It is important to give space over the next few weeks for the Party Officers to make arrangements for the election of a new leader… When elected I will work with the new leader on transition arrangements’.
The Journal reported that one of the reasons for a no-confidence vote in the leadership of Arlene Foster is because of the ‘DUP Stormont minister attending a business meeting with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar last week.'
The DUP had been boycotting north-south events in protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Foster has been First Minister of Northern Ireland’s Executive since January 2016, with Martin McGuinness as the Executive’s Deputy First Minister until 2017, and Michelle O’Neill in the role since 2020. Foster has been leader of the DUP since 2015.
Her time as an MLA and as the leader of the DUP has not been without other chaotic troubles as tensions were dominated between her party, the DUP and Sinn Féin.
The late Martin McGuinness resigned as Deputy First Minister in January 2017, after tensions with Arlene Foster and the DUP around a controversial energy project when Foster was Enterprise Minister in 2012, which would include a significant financial burden on the taxpayer.
There have also been disagreements between the DUP and Sinn Féin over LGBT rights, abortion rights and the introduction of an Irish Language Act. This collapsed the Assembly, until it was formed again in January 2020, with Michelle O’Neill as the new Sinn Féin leader in Northern Ireland, and Deputy First Minister and joint Government Minister.
Relations were always tense between the DUP and Sinn Féin, however despite these tense relations, the executive remained in power, and it has overseen a successful Covid-19 vaccination rollout programme.
However, to some extent, this has been overshadowed by the active opposition by the DUP and even stronger opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol by the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) whose sole MLA is prominent Brexiteer Jim Allister.
Since the creation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, active opposition has been present by many unionist communities as they feel betrayed by an agreement that treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK. But, it cannot be forgotten that Northern Ireland’s unique place in the UK and in Europe is different from the likes of Scotland and Wales due to its fractured history with conflict.
However, this did not resonate with the concerns of the unionist community. It cannot be overstated that the departure of Arlene Foster as leader of the DUP and First Minister by the end of June, may lead to the appointment of a more extreme leader by the DUP membership.
It is clear that from Ms Foster's statement, that she is seeking to ensure that the unionist community is not divided and that unionism remains united.
It is still to be seen who the next leader of the DUP and First Minister of Northern Ireland will be, but it is only more likely to stir up tensions between an already tense power-sharing executive between the DUP and Sinn Féin and could bring an end to the power-sharing executive.