By David Young, PA
Arlene Foster has said none of her DUP colleagues who moved to oust her have contacted her to explain why.
The outgoing DUP leader and Northern Ireland's First Minister said politics is “brutal” and she has endured a “turbulent” week, but she insisted she is “at peace” with her decision to leave the local political scene.
Mrs Foster, who visited a primary school on the Ards peninsula on Friday morning, said she will wait until she steps down as First Minister at the end of June before outlining her intention on whether she will leave the DUP altogether.
“It’s been a turbulent week, it’s been a week where I’ve had to make pretty big decisions,” she said.
“But I think the time is right to move on and to do something different, and that’s what I’ll do.”
She added: “I still haven’t seen the letter that was talked about, so I presume I will see that at some stage.”
Mrs Foster is stepping down as party leader on May 28th and as First Minister a month later.
While she had been under mounting pressure from disgruntled DUP supporters for months, the pace at which her grip on power slipped this week has surprised many.
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
Her resignation on Wednesday came a day after party colleagues unhappy with her leadership moved against her, with a majority of senior elected representatives signing a letter of no confidence.
Discontent at the DUP’s Brexit strategy was a major factor, with party rank-and-file laying some of the blame for the emergence of what has been described as an Irish Sea border at her door.
Traditionalists from the party’s religious fundamentalist wing also harboured concerns over positions Mrs Foster had taken on some social issues.
Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots is so far the only DUP politician to declare his hand in seeking the soon-to-be-vacant leadership.
Wonderful morning with the staff and pupils of Kirkistown Primary at their Centenary Celebrations. With the most beautiful cake and wonderfully creative gift. #ProudofNI #NI100 pic.twitter.com/pb6VqC2rwH
— Arlene Foster #WeWillMeetAgain (@DUPleader) April 30, 2021
On a visit to Kirkistown Primary School in Co Down, Mrs Foster said: “Politics is a very brutal game – I think everybody knows that to be the case.
“I haven’t actually spoken to any of the colleagues who are purported to have signed the letters, they haven’t been in touch. So, you know, that’s a matter for them.
“I’ll move on and look forward, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter as to what I’m going to do with my life.”
The First Minister said she hopes the DUP will continue to “look forward”.
“I joined a party that wanted to look forward, that wanted to build a Northern Ireland for everybody, that recognised that there was divisions in society and to try and deal with those divisions and to move Northern Ireland to a better place, and I hope that’s the direction of the party that continues,” she said.
“It was made clear to me by the number of people who felt that they wanted to sign the letter, which as I say I haven’t seen yet, that I didn’t have the support of my colleagues, and when you don’t have the support of your colleagues you really can’t continue in the job as party leader.
“So the time is right to move on, to do something different and do something new, and I’m very much looking forward to that challenge.”
Mrs Foster made clear that some of her “very good friends” did not sign the letter of no confidence.
“I think you should also recognise that not everybody signed the letter, some very good friends did not. And I think you should note that as well,” she said.
The DUP leader added: “I haven’t really had any engagement from any of the colleagues who felt that I should leave, so I suppose that’s the disappointment – that I don’t actually know what the reason is for it, but, as I say, you know, that’s politics.
“All political careers have to come to an end, mine will come to an end at the end of June.”
Mrs Foster confirmed she will be stepping down as an Assembly member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
Asked whether she would like to join the Lords, the upper house of the UK parliament, she said such decisions are not made by her.
She said she wishes whoever leads the party well, but would not be drawn on who she would be supporting in any leadership contest.
“I don’t know who the next leader of the party is going to be, I don’t know what their policies are going to be.
“Undoubtedly we’ll hear more of that in the coming weeks, but I am simply saying to you that I hope that, as the largest party and as the largest Unionist party, that is a positive message that we’re bringing forward to the future, because I think there’s a very positive story to tell,” she said.
Mrs Foster added that she hopes devolution is not at risk.
“The future of Northern Ireland is very much tied up with devolution and being able to take those decisions locally, it’s very important,” she said.