Foster steps down as DUP leader
The North's First Minster Arlene Foster has given way to mounting pressure from within her own party for her to step aside.
The DUP leader made a video statement this afternoon outlining she will make way for a new party leader a month from today (May 28) and will resign as first minister 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," assured the MLA for Fermanagh South Tyrone.
Her tenure in charge coincided with the so-called 'cash for ash' scandal, and also saw her campaign for Brexit. The majority of the North voted to remain within the EU. The political negotiations to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement saw the introduction of the Northern Ireland protocol, which is deeply unpopular amongst unionists and was used as an excuse for loyalist violence in recent weeks.
On this point her comments were brief: "The Protocol being foisted upon Northern Ireland against the will of unionists has served to destabilise Northern Ireland in more recent times."
Ms Foster also used her statement to reflect on her status as the male dominated DUP's first female leader:
"My election as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party broke a glass ceiling and I am glad inspired other women to enter politics and spurred them on to take up elected office," she said.
"I understand the misogynistic criticisms that female public figures have to take and sadly it’s the same for all women in public life.
"I want to encourage you to keep going and don’t let the online lynch mobs get you down."
Long-term demographic shifts, coupled with deep dissatisfaction with Brexit has seen the calls for a unity poll intensify. Ms Foster, who reportedly said she would leave the country if there was a united Ireland, signed off her statement with a reflection on identity:
"I have sought to lead the Party and Northern Ireland away from division and towards a better path.
"There are people in Northern Ireland with a British identity, others are Irish, others are Northern Irish, others are a mixture of all three and some are new and emerging. We must all learn to be generous to each other, live together and share this wonderful country.
"The future of unionism and Northern Ireland will not be found in division, it will only be found in sharing this place we all are privileged to call home."