Arlene Foster will stand down as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and as Northern Ireland's First Minister in the face of mounting discontent among her party.
Ms Foster said she will stand down as party leader on May 28th and as First Minister at the end of June.
In a statement, she said: “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.”
You can watch a copy of my statement made today in the link below. https://t.co/X0o0LKTmcZ
— Arlene Foster #WeWillMeetAgain (@DUPleader) April 28, 2021
Ms Foster said she intended to “depart the political stage”.
“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,” she said.
“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.
“Whilst there have been many difficult and testing times for the executive it remains my firm view that Northern Ireland has been better served having local ministers at this time. It is unthinkable that we could have faced into the coronavirus pandemic without our own devolved ministers in place and no ministerial direction for departments.”
The end of Ms Foster’s five-year tenure at helm of the DUP had been widely anticipated after it emerged that a significant number of her colleagues had signed a letter of no confidence.
She faced the revolt over her handling of Brexit and a recent decision to abstain in a Northern Ireland Assembly vote on gay conversion therapy.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin was among the politicians to send best wishes to Ms Foster following her resignation announcement.
He paid tribute to the DUP leader’s role in “guiding Northern Ireland through this challenging period”.
Mr Martin described the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive in January 2020 as a “key development in supporting peace and stability for all the people of these islands”.
The Fianna Fáil leader also said he had a “positive working relationship” with Ms Foster over the years.
Best wishes to @dupleader Arlene Foster & her family this evening. While we bring different perspectives to some issues, she has worked sincerely, tirelessly & with determination for her party & for NI as First Minister.
— Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) April 28, 2021
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he was “very sorry” to hear of Ms Foster's resignation and wanted to wish her “the very best in her future life and whatever she decides to do.”
Mr Varadkar added: “Her closing statement today really resonated with me – this understanding we must have that people in Northern Ireland are Irish, British, Northern Irish, or a mixture of all these things, and that we have to be generous to each other and understand each other.”
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney also sent his best wishes to Ms Foster and her family following the announcement.
He tweeted: “While we bring different perspectives to some issues, she has worked sincerely, tirelessly & with determination for her party & for NI as First Minister.”
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said Ms Foster was a “truly dedicated public servant”.
“There are many young people, particularly young women, who will be inspired by her example to follow a path into politics,” he said.
Sinn Féin response
Sinn Féin vice president and the North's Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill wished Ms Foster well and called on the incoming DUP leader to be aware of the desire for progressive political change in the North.
She called for a commitment to powersharing, abortion access, LGBT equality and the Irish language from the next party leader.
I have spoken with Arlene Foster today and she informed me of her decision to step down. I have wished Arlene and her family well in the time ahead.
Politics and Power sharing must work and deliver for everyone.
— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) April 28, 2021
She said: “I spoke to Arlene today and she informed me of her decision to step down. I wished her and her family well.
“I have worked alongside Arlene Foster this past year in what has been a difficult and challenging time for everyone with the unexpected onset of the Covid pandemic.
“Throughout the pandemic I acknowledge the efforts Arlene Foster has made as First Minister, and the service that she has given in working with the rest of the Executive as we have battled the biggest health crisis in a generation.
“It is now a matter for the DUP to choose a replacement.”
Unionism is at a crossroads. Their inbuilt majority is a thing of the past. Powersharing, building an inclusive society is the future. This is the real world which awaits the new DUP leader. Good wishes to @DUPleader in her last weeks in office
— Mary Lou McDonald (@MaryLouMcDonald) April 28, 2021
A DUP minister tipped as a potential successor to Ms Foster thanked her for her “service, sacrifice and commitment”.
Edwin Poots, the North's Environment Minister, was among a number of DUP members to react to the announcement.
He tweeted: “I wish to thank Arlene for her service, sacrifice and commitment to the DUP and country.
“We all wish her well for whatever the future may hold for her and her family.”
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said it was a “privilege” to work with Ms Foster.
The former MP tweeted: “Arlene has dedicated her life to defending the Union and moving Northern Ireland forward.
“She has demonstrated great courage and is an example for women in public life.
“Thank you Arlene. It’s been a privilege to work alongside you.”
— Gavin Robinson (@GRobinsonDUP) April 28, 2021
Another frontrunner to succeed the party leader, East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson, also paid tribute.
“There will be more to say about what lies ahead in the days to come, but for now, I want to thank Arlene personally for her dedicated service to Northern Ireland,” he posted online.
“She has been a constant source of encouragement to me and my colleagues throughout the province.
“Facing difficulties with courage and determination; and sacrificing so much over all of us over her 18 years in elected politics, I pay tribute to her, her leadership and her commitment to our Country.”