Arlene Foster has announced her resignation as DUP Chair and First Minister for Northern Ireland.
Ms. Foster said she would step down as party leader on May 28 and as first minister at the end of June.
The announcement comes 24 hours after a sizeable internal argument against her by DUP politicians who are dissatisfied with her leadership.
The 50-year-old Fermanagh and South Tyrone representative said her resignation will mark the end of her political career as she prepares to “leave the political arena”.
“I recently called the party leader (Lord Morrow) to inform him that I intend to resign as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party on May 28 and as Northern Ireland’s first minister at the end of June,” she said.
“It is important to give party officials space over the next few weeks to make arrangements for the election of a new leader. After my election, I will work on transitional arrangements with the new chairman.
“As First Minister, it is important that I, with fellow executive colleagues, complete work on a number of important issues for Northern Ireland.
“Northern Ireland and its people have been badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and much remains to be done to guide us through the pandemic and reduce its impact on everyone’s lives.”
The end of Ms. Foster’s five-year tenure at the helm of the DUP had been largely anticipated after it was discovered that a significant number of her colleagues had signed a letter of no confidence circulated between MLAs, MPs and colleagues in the party.
In recent months, DUP members have become more uneasy about Ms. Foster and the broader party leadership.
The main cause for concern is the way the Brexit process is being carried out. The DUP is facing the anger of the broader loyalist and union community over the introduction of an Irish maritime border.
Critics have accused Ms. Foster of failing to use the party’s influence in Westminster – especially during its trust and supply agreement with the Conservatives – to achieve a Brexit deal in which Northern Ireland joins the EU on the same terms as the rest of the world Left the UK.
She was also accused of not being loud enough against the controversial protocol that governs the new Brexit trade barriers between NI and UK before it was introduced in early 2021.
Bad election numbers in recent times have exacerbated discontent among party believers, who are aware of the upcoming general election next May.
Aside from the Irish maritime border, Mrs Foster’s decision to abstain from a vote calling for a ban on conversion therapy for homosexuals last week appears to have further upset sections of the party’s fundamentalist base.
The majority of her colleagues in the party assembly voted against the motion after not changing it to refer to religious protection.
Ms. Foster was among only five party members, including colleagues from Stormont, Peter Weir and Diane Dodds, who abstained.
This episode points to tensions between Ms. Foster, a Church of Ireland member and former Ulster Unionist, and the more traditional free Presbyterian wing of the DUP, which they find possibly too moderate on some social issues.
When Ms. Foster announced her resignation, she said: “It has been the privilege of my life to serve the people of Northern Ireland as their first minister, representing my constituency of Fermanagh / South Tyrone. I first entered the congregation in 2003 and there is no doubt that the journey of the past eighteen years has been unforgettable. There are many people who have helped and supported me during this time and I will always be grateful for the kindness and support they show me.
“Although there have been many difficult and difficult times for the executive branch, I still firmly believe that when there were local ministers, Northern Ireland was better served at this point in time. It is unthinkable that we would have got caught up in the coronavirus pandemic without our own decentralized ministers and without ministerial management for the departments.
“As I prepare to leave the political arena, I believe that if Northern Ireland is to flourish, it will only build on the foundations of successful and lasting decentralization. This continues to require hard work and real determination and courage on all sides. “
Ms. Foster said she entered politics to stand up for the voiceless and build a Northern Ireland that could flourish and be at peace in the UK.
“I’m the first to realize that there have been ups and downs in the last five and a half years,” she said.
Ms. Foster added: “I sincerely thank the hundreds of party fans who have contacted us in the past few days for the opportunities to serve you and for the support you have given me. For almost five and a half years I have been incredibly humble to have the opportunity to lead the Democratic Unionist Party.
“I have tried to lead the party and Northern Ireland away from the split and onto a better path.
“Northern Ireland has people of British identity, some are Irish, others are Northern Irish, others are a mix of all three and some are new and emerging. We must all learn to be generous with one another, to live together and to share this wonderful country.
“The future of unionism and Northern Ireland will not be in a split, just in sharing this place where we all have the privilege of calling home.”