Arlene Foster due to quit as Northern Ireland first minister

Following Ms Foster’s departure, the DUP and Sinn Féin will have seven days to approve a new first minister

Celine Wadhera
Monday 14 June 2021 09:53
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<p>Arlene Foster was Northern Ireland’s first minister since January 2020, and previously from January 2016 to January 2017</p>

Arlene Foster was Northern Ireland’s first minister since January 2020, and previously from January 2016 to January 2017

Arleen Foster is set to resign as Northern Ireland’s first minister.

Ms Foster will make a personal statement to the Northern Ireland assembly at Stormont Monday afternoon, where she is expected to officially step down from the role.

She has served as first minister since January 2020, and also held the post from January 2016 to January 2017. Ms Foster has been a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly since 2003.

Her resignation as first minister follows her resignation as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on 28 May.

Both of her resignations follow an internal revolt within the DUP, where at least 22 MLAs and four MPs signed a letter-of-no-confidence in the party’s leadership.

Issues that led towards internal discontent within the party include Brexit, the Northern Ireland Protocol, and legislation permitting abortion and same sex marriage.

With her resignation, Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin will also lose her post as deputy first minister, as the roles are a joint office. Under Northern Ireland’s power-sharing system, if the first minister is a unionist, the deputy first minister must be a nationalist and vice versa.

Following the departure of the first and deputy first ministers, there is a seven day period in which a new first minister and deputy first minister must be approved by Sinn Féin and the DUP, the power-sharing partners in Stormont.

The DUP expects Lagan Valley assembly member Paul Givan to succeed Ms Foster as first minister. Mr Givan was nominated by Edwin Poots, the new leader of the DUP, who has purged Ms Foster’s allies from ministerial posts since winning the leadership contest in May.

It is thought that Sinn Féin has may block Mr Givan’s appointment, unless the DUP commit to implementing all agreements of the New Decade New Approach power-sharing deal between the two parties, including setting a timetable for Irish language legislation.

Previously, Sinn Féin has accused the DUP of “acting in bad faith” around the Agreement, which restored power-sharing in Northern Ireland in January 2020, and said that it did not believe Mr Poots would deliver their desired Irish language legislation.

In response, a DUP spokesperson said: “We remain committed to the New Decade New Approach agreement and want to see it implemented in all its parts.”

Ms Foster was the first woman to lead the DUP, and the first woman to hold the post of first minister.

Since the revolt, she has said that she is preparing to “depart the political stage” and will leave the party once she steps down as first minister.

She has said that she is saddened by the manner of her departure, but is “looking forward” to new possibilities.

At a meeting on Friday where politicians from across the UK met to discuss Covid recovery in Northern Ireland, UK cabinet minister Michael Gove praised Ms Foster for her service as first minister, and hinted that Ms Foster’s time in public life was not yet over.

This fuelled speculation that she could end up in a government post, or in the House of Lords, although not as a member of the DUP.

He said: “I love Arlene, I think she’s fantastic, I think she’s a wonderful person, she’s an open hearted, public spirited, problem solving, go-getting leader and she has been a great voice for Northern Ireland as a first minister.”

He added: “Her contribution to public life in Northern Ireland and across the UK, and perhaps beyond, has not ended.”

Ireland’s prime minister Micheál Martin, also in attendance on Friday, also commended Ms Foster, saying that it takes “politicians of courage to build bridges and develop effective shared government”.

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