Arlene Foster could be toppled as DUP leader following vote on conversion therapy

Patrick Kelleher
·3-min read

Arlene Foster’s time as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) could be coming to an end after roughly three quarters of MLAs reportedly signed a letter of no confidence.

DUP members told the News Letter that an internal war is being waged against Foster over her handling of a number of issues, including a recent vote on conversion therapy.

Party sources said that at least 21 DUP MLAs, four MPs and one peer have signed a letter of no confidence in Arlene Foster.

One unnamed party member told the publication that there is “no way” Foster will be able to see the leadership challenge off and that the party – which has fiercely opposed advancements in LGBT+ rights – needs a “clear direction”.

Jim Wells, a DUP member who has lost the party whip, said a Stormont vote on the torturous practice of conversion therapy last week was a sticking point for party members.

The barbaric practice of conversion therapy has been widely discredited by a host of professional bodies including the World Health Organization and a host of other medical professional associations worldwide.

Arlene Foster and two of her DUP ministers abstained in the vote, while a majority of DUP voted against the motion calling for an extensive ban on conversion therapy in Northern Ireland.

Wells told the News Letter that party members were also unhappy that MLA Diane Dodds attended a recent north-south ministerial meeting, despite the fact that the party is currently boycotting such meetings over its objections to the Northern Ireland protocol, which prevents a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Foster was asked about rumours that she was facing an internal leadership challenge.

“Stories on leadership come up from time to time, and it’s one of those times,” she told the Associated Press, claiming she had “bigger things to do” than engage with the conversation.

When approached for comment, the DUP said it “conducts its business in accordance with its constitution and rules”.

A spokesperson explained: “The officers of the party oversee the conduct and organisation of its internal democratic electoral processes. While understanding that there will be from time-to-time public interest in party processes, these issues, in the first instance, are matters for members of the party and we are not able to make any further comment at this time.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster facing a ‘mass rebellion’

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Stephen Nolan programme, Jim Wells said there was a “mass rebellion” brewing within the DUP after party officials asked all MLAs to abstain on last week’s conversion therapy vote. In the end, Arlene Foster and a small number of DUP MLAs abstained, while a majority voted against.

Wells also claimed senior DUP members asked him to not force a public vote on conversion therapy in Stormont, hoping the UUP’s motion would slip through without a vote.

While Arlene Foster abstained on the vote, she later reaffirmed her party’s opposition to a ban on conversion therapy in religious settings. Meanwhile, party officials insisted that it will veto any legislation unless it includes “safeguards for churches”.

The DUP has stridently opposed any advancements in LGBT+ rights, while some political figures within the party have made overtly anti-LGBT+ comments.

Speaking at last week’s Stormont debate, Jim Wells argued against a ban on conversion therapy, saying people who “struggle with same-sex attraction” might need their pastor.