Arlene Foster: Politicians respond to resignation

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image captionArlene Foster at a DUP party conference in 2016

Since it emerged that Arlene Foster had resigned as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and as NI first minister, politicians on all sides have been reacting.

Mrs Foster, who was the first female First Minister of Northern Ireland, said it had been the privilege of her life and now she was preparing to “depart the political stage”.

Here are some of the reactions.

Sinn Féin

Deputy First Minster Michelle O’Neill said she had spoken to her ministerial partner earlier on Wednesday and wished her and and her family well.

“I have worked alongside Arlene Foster this past year in what has been a difficult and challenging time for everyone with the unexpected onset of the Covid pandemic,” she said.

“Throughout the pandemic I acknowledge the efforts Arlene Foster has made as First Minister, and the service that she has given in working with the rest of the Executive as we have battled the biggest health crisis in a generation,” she added.

She said it was now time for the DUP to choose a replacement.

“The incoming DUP leader should recognise that the political landscape across our island has changed,” she said.

She said there must now be a “genuine commitment from all political leaders to power-sharing and to work to deliver equality for women, for the LGBT community, for Irish language and identity and all sections of our community.”

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said it had undoubtedly been a “difficult day for Arlene and I extend my regards to her and her family”.

She acknowledged the work that she did as first minister alongside Ms O’Neill throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

She said Sinn Féin would work with the new leader with “generosity and respect”, adding that “unionism is at a crossroads”.

“The inbuilt unionist majority is now a thing of the past,” she said.

Democratic Unionist Party

image captionNigel Dodds said it had been a privilege to work with the outgoing DUP leader

DUP peer and deputy leader Nigel Dodds said Mrs Foster had “dedicated her life to defending the union and moving Northern Ireland forward”.

“She has demonstrated great courage and is an example for women in public life.

“Thank you Arlene. It’s been a privilege to work alongside you,” he tweeted.

DUP MLA and Minister of Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots, thanked the First Minister for her “service, sacrifice and commitment to the DUP and country”.

“We all wish her well for whatever the future may hold for her and her family,” he added.

Education Minister Peter Weir said he was sorry to see Mrs Foster step down.

“I have known her and been a friend and colleague for over 30 years. She has devoted her adult life to Northern Ireland and to Unionism,” he said.

“I wish her and her family all the best in the next stage of her life,” he added.

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image captionDUP MP Gregory Campbell thanked Mrs Foster

DUP MP Gregory Campbell thanked Arlene Foster on his Facebook page for her “steadfast commitment to making progress here in Northern Ireland despite the many difficulties we all faced, and will continue to face in the future.

“She faced many difficulties and didn’t shirk her responsibilities in carrying out her role both as an MLA and as First Minister.

“Thanks for your faithful endeavours in all that you tried to do,” he added.

East Belfast MP, Gavin Robinson, thanked the former leader for her “dedicated service to NI”.

“She had been a constant source of encouragement to me and my colleagues throughout the province, facing difficulties with courage and determination and sacrificing so much over her 18 years in elected politics,” he said.

Colum Eastwood, Social Democratic and Labour Party leader

Mr Eastwood said while he “disagreed” with Mrs Foster on “almost everything”, she was a committed servant to her party and he wished her well.

“The circumstances that have led to the First Minister’s resignation are deeply concerning,” he said.

“That a political leader would be removed from office by their party for failing to support conversion therapy is distressing and will cause some alarm for members of our LGBT+ community,” he said, referring to Mrs Foster abstaining on a motion in the Stormont assembly calling for a ban on gay conversion therapy.

“Whoever takes over as DUP leader and First Minister will also inherit the same febrile political situation that we have all been dealing with for months,” he added.

His party colleague and Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon tweeted: “We have our political differences but as a minister, it was always clear to me that Arlene Foster was passionate about her constituents and Northern Ireland.

“On a personal level, I have no doubt this will be a difficult time for Arlene and her family.”

Ulster Unionist Party Leader Steve Aiken

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UUP leader Steve Aiken said he had messaged Mrs Foster, who was a former UUP member, earlier on, and planned to speak to her soon.

He gave the outgoing DUP leader his best wishes, said she had shown “passion”, and her resignation evidenced “how difficult the life on politics can be for people”.

He said his party would represent a “modern and progressive approach to unionism”.

“It has to be more than anything else about good governance,” he said.

“We need a period of stable and continuous government,” he added.

Alliance Party

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Alliance deputy leader and North Down MP Stephen Farry said while his party has had issues with Arlene Foster’s conduct as first minister, on a personal level “it was important to have empathy” with the departing DUP leader.

“This is not an easy thing to do in terms of announcing your resignation as party leader,” he said.

Mr Farry said he remembered Arlene Foster from before politics and had been a student at the same time as her in Queen’s University.

He said the “direction of travel” in Northern Ireland since the Brexit vote in 2016 had been “fairly disruptive” and this would not be missed, as there was a “concern about what is coming next” in terms of the party’s leadership.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis

The NI minister said: “Arlene is a truly dedicated public servant, devoting her political career to her constituents for over 18 years and the people of NI as FM for several years.

“There are many young people, particularly young women, who will be inspired by her example to follow a path into politics.

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“I wish her all the best and look forward to continuing to work with her in the days and weeks ahead, delivering for all the people of NI.”

Traditional Unionist Voice Leader Jim Allister

Speaking to the BBC’s Evening Extra programme, Mr Allister said he appreciated it had been a “difficult day” for the former leader, particularly, he added, the “speed of her dispatch by some who, no doubt, she counted as friends”.

He said he had known her from both his legal career and NI Assembly career and “whether in law or politics” he found her to be “straightforward” in his dealings with her.

However he criticised what he said was her “equivocal attitude, at the start, to the (Northern Ireland) Protocol”.

“The protocol is systematically dismantling the union and has left us in a different place to the rest of the UK,” he said.

Taoiseach (Irish PM) Micheál Martin

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The taoiseach said he had had a “positive working relationship” with the former DUP leader for years.

“In particular I valued the constructive engagement, notwithstanding our differences, we have had in our respective roles,” he said.

“As a person who has personal experience of the suffering that violence brings, Arlene knows more than most how difficult it is, but also how important it is, to work together for the peace and prosperity for all,” he added.

“She has served during what has been a period of considerable change and challenge in Northern Ireland,” he said.

He added that she had “sent a strong message to women about what can be achieved in and through politics.”

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney

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Mr Coveney sent his best wishes to the First Minister and her family.

“While we bring different perspectives to some issues, she has worked sincerely, tirelessly & with determination for her party & for NI as First Minister,” he tweeted.

Green Party Leader Clare Bailey

Ms Bailey tweeted: “Party politics aside, there can be no denying that Arlene Foster made her mark in Northern Irish politics including becoming the first female First Minister.

“I wish her well for her future.”

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