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Politics is a very brutal game, says Arlene Foster

·6 min read

Arlene Foster has said none of her DUP colleagues who moved to oust her have contacted her to explain why.

The outgoing DUP leader and Stormont First Minister said politics is “brutal” and she has endured a “turbulent” week, but she insisted she is “at peace” with her decision to leave the local political scene in Northern Ireland.

Mrs Foster, who visited a primary school on the Ards peninsula on Friday morning, said she will wait until she steps down as First Minister at the end of June before outlining her intention on whether she will leave the DUP altogether.

“It’s been a turbulent week, it’s been a week where I’ve had to make pretty big decisions,” she said.

“But I think the time is right to move on and to do something different, and that’s what I’ll do.”

Mrs Foster is stepping down as party leader on May 28 and as First Minister a month later.

While she had been under mounting pressure from disgruntled DUP supporters for months, the pace at which her grip on power slipped this week has surprised many.

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Her resignation on Wednesday came a day after party colleagues unhappy with her leadership moved against her, with a majority of senior elected representatives signing a letter of no confidence.

Discontent at the DUP’s Brexit strategy was a major factor, with party rank-and-file laying some of the blame for the emergence of an Irish Sea border at her door.

Traditionalists from the party’s religious fundamentalist wing also harboured concerns over positions Mrs Foster had taken on some social issues.

Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots is so far the only DUP politician to declare his hand in seeking the soon-to-be-vacant leadership.

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On a visit to Kirkistown Primary School in Co Down, Mrs Foster said: “Politics is a very brutal game – I think everybody knows that to be the case.

“I haven’t actually spoken to any of the colleagues who are purported to have signed the letters, they haven’t been in touch. So, you know, that’s a matter for them.

“I’ll move on and look forward, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter as to what I’m going to do with my life.”

The First Minister said she hopes the DUP will continue to “look forward”.

“I joined a party that wanted to look forward, that wanted to build a Northern Ireland for everybody, that recognised that there was divisions in society and to try and deal with those divisions and to move Northern Ireland to a better place, and I hope that’s the direction of the party that continues,” she said.

“It was made clear to me by the number of people who felt that they wanted to sign the letter, which as I say I haven’t seen yet, that I didn’t have the support of my colleagues, and when you don’t have the support of your colleagues you really can’t continue in the job as party leader.

“So the time is right to move on, to do something different and do something new, and I’m very much looking forward to that challenge.”

Arlene Foster visits primary school
Arlene Foster with pupils and staff during a visit to Kirkistown Primary School in Co Down (David Young/PA)

Mrs Foster made clear that some of her “very good friends” did not sign the letter of no confidence.

“I think you should also recognise that not everybody signed the letter, some very good friends did not. And I think you should note that as well,” she said.

The DUP leader added: “I haven’t really had any engagement from any of the colleagues who felt that I should leave, so I suppose that’s the disappointment – that I don’t actually know what the reason is for it, but, as I say, you know, that’s politics.

“All political careers have to come to an end, mine will come to an end at the end of June.”

Mrs Foster confirmed she will be stepping down as an Assembly member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Asked whether she would like to join the Lords, she said such decisions are not made by her.

Arlene Foster steps down
Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots is so far the only DUP member to announce his intention to stand for the party leadership (Edwin Poots/PA)

She said she wishes whoever leads the party well, but would not be drawn on who she would be supporting in any leadership contest.

“I don’t know who the next leader of the party is going to be, I don’t know what their policies are going to be.

“Undoubtedly we’ll hear more of that in the coming weeks, but I am simply saying to you that I hope that, as the largest party and as the largest Unionist party, that is a positive message that we’re bringing forward to the future, because I think there’s a very positive story to tell,” she said.

Mrs Foster added that she hopes devolution is not at risk.

“The future of Northern Ireland is very much tied up with devolution and being able to take those decisions locally, it’s very important,” she said.

Mrs Foster was in good spirits as she took part in a party at the primary school to mark Northern Ireland’s centenary.

Her upbeat mood carried through into her exchanges with reporters outside.

However she appeared to become emotional when speaking about how much she will miss working with constituents in Fermanagh.

Mrs Foster was repeatedly pressed on whether she had decided to leave the DUP.

She said she would outline her decision once she left the First Minister’s office.

“I’ve just stepped down as the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, I don’t leave that office until the end of May, I don’t leave the office of First Minister until the end of June and there’s a lot of things that I need to do before I leave office and then, on the 1st of July, I shall come and talk to you all, I promise,” she said.

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