The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party Arlene Foster has announced she is to step down from her role as party leader.
The First Minister is to move aside on the 28th of May and as Northern Ireland’s First Minister by the end of June. It follows calls from within her party for a leadership contest.
Intense speculation has mounted over her position after the revelation on Tuesday that at least 75% of her party MLAs had signed a letter expressing no confidence in her leadership.
In a statement released by the DUP on Wednesday, Mrs Foster said: “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. I first entered the Assembly in 2003 and undoubtedly the journey of the last eighteen years has been memorable.
“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.
“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.
“The Confidence and Supply Agreement was able to bring one billion pounds of extra spending for everyone in Northern Ireland. Our priorities were not narrow but based on more investment in mental health and hospitals, bringing broadband to rural communities, improving our roads and ensuring funding to encourage more shared housing and education.
“The three years without devolution caused untold harm to our public services and the RHI Inquiry was a difficult period. The Protocol being foisted upon Northern Ireland against the will of unionists has served to destabilise Northern Ireland in more recent times.
“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.
“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.”