Arlene Foster resigns as DUP leader after rebellion over conversion therapy vote

Patrick Kelleher
·4-min read

Arlene Foster has resigned as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) after three quarters of her elected representatives signed a letter of no confidence.

The first minister of Northern Ireland announced her resignation in a statement on Wednesday (28 April), just 24 hours after details of the party’s sensational heave to have her removed as leader leaked to the media.

In her statement, Arlene Foster confirmed that she will step down as leader of the DUP on 28 May and will finish up as first minister at the end of June.

Foster said she will complete work on “a number of important issues for Northern Ireland” in the coming weeks before she steps down from her position.

“It has been the privilege of my life to serve the people of Northern Ireland as their First Minster and to represent my home constituency of Fermanagh/South Tyrone,” Foster said.

“I first entered the Assembly in 2003 and undoubtedly the journey of the last 18 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.”

She continued: “As I prepare to depart the political stage it is my view that if Northern Ireland is to prosper then it will only do so built on the foundations of successful and durable devolution. That will require continued hard work and real determination and courage on all sides.”

I understand the misogynistic criticisms that female public figures have to take and sadly it’s the same for all women in public life.

Foster admitted the there have been “ups and downs” during her five years at the helm of the DUP, identifying the 2017 power-sharing collapse as one of her biggest regrets.

She also used her statement to hit out at the Northern Ireland Protocol, a part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement designed to stop a hard border being put in place on the island of Ireland.

Foster urged young, working-class people and particularly women to get involved in politics, saying her election as leader of the DUP “broke a glass ceiling”.

“I understand the misogynistic criticisms that female public figures have to take and sadly it’s the same for all women in public life,” Foster said.

“I want to encourage you to keep going and don’t let the online lynch mobs get you down.”

She closed her statement: “The future of unionism and Northern Ireland will not be found in division, it will only be found in sharing this place we are all privileged to call home.”

Arlene Foster’s resignation driven by conversion therapy ban and the Northern Irish protocol

Foster’s sensational resignation as leader of the DUP and first minister of Northern Ireland comes after days of internal wrangling within the conservative political party over issues such as a proposed conversion therapy ban and the Northern Irish protocol.

The News Letter reported on Tuesday (27 April) that three quarters of DUP MLAs had signed a letter of no confidence in Foster over her handling of a number of issues.

Jim Wells, a DUP member who lost the party whip in 2018, said last week’s Stormont vote on a motion to ban conversion therapy caused issues within the party. While a significant majority of DUP MLAs voted against the motion, Arlene Foster and two of her senior ministers abstained.

Wells also told the News Letter that party members were unhappy that MLA Diane Dodds attended a recent north-south ministerial meeting, despite the fact that the party is currently boycotting such meetings over objections to the Northern Irish protocol.

Foster initially downplayed suggestions that her leadership was under threat on Tuesday, telling the Associated Press that she had “bigger things to do” than engage with the conversation.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Stephen Nolan programme earlier this week, Jim Wells said there was a “mass rebellion” brewing after the DUP asked all MLAs to abstain on the conversion therapy vote.

While Foster abstained, she later reaffirmed that the party would oppose any conversion therapy ban unless it included “safeguards for churches”.