Arlene Foster will step down as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, she has announced in a statement.
In a statement she said that serving the people of Northern Ireland has been the “privilege of her life”.
Her announcement follows days of speculation about her future as leader of the party.
“A short time ago I called the Party Chairman to inform him that I intend to step down as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party on the twenty-eighth of May and as First Minister of Northern Ireland at the end of June”, she said.
Ms Foster hinted that this would be the end of her career in politics as she said she would be departing “the political stage”.
“It has been the privilege of my life to serve the people of Northern Ireland as their First Minister and to represent my home constituency of Fermanagh/South Tyrone,” she said.
“I first entered the Assembly in 2003 and undoubtedly the journey of the last eighteen 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.
“Whilst there have been many difficult and testing times for the executive it remains my firm view that Northern Ireland has been better served having local ministers at this time. It is unthinkable that we could have faced into the coronavirus pandemic without our own devolved ministers in place and no ministerial direction for departments.”
The primary source of concern was the handling of the Brexit process. The DUP is facing anger from the wider loyalist and unionist community for the introduction of an Irish Sea border.
Critics accused Ms Foster of failing to use the party’s influence at Westminster – particularly during its confidence and supply deal with the Conservatives – to secure a Brexit deal that saw Northern Ireland leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK.
She had also been accused of not being vociferous enough in opposition to the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol, which governs the new Brexit trading barriers between NI and GB, ahead of its introduction at the start of 2021.
Poor recent polling numbers have exacerbated the discontent within the party faithful, who are mindful of next May’s looming Assembly election.
Ms Foster’s decision to abstain in a vote on gay conversion therapy last week appears to have further agitated sections of the party’s fundamentalist grassroots.