Arlene Foster described the referendum result as “both welcome and momentous for the United Kingdom as a whole and Northern Ireland in particular”.
The DUP lead and first minister said: “We look forward to working together for the best interests of Northern Ireland within our United Kingdom.
“Democratic Unionists campaigned to leave the European Union. The democratic decision of the people of the United Kingdom marks a new and fresh beginning for our country and I believe offers us the opportunity to build a new, hopeful, and more democratic nation.”
She said: “As the leader of Unionism I believe we made the right decision to recommend a leave vote. Many did not predict that 44% of our electorate would vote to leave, especially after the torrent of fear which was directed at us. I know there are those who say that a majority of people in NI voted to remain and while that was always likely to be the case we cannot and must not close our eyes to the fact that this is a UK-wide decision and every vote is equal in the United Kingdom.
“This has been the biggest exercise of democratic participation for many years and follows a long and at time passionate debate. I am proud of the fact that this decision was taken by the people and we must all respect the democratically expressed wishes in what was a UK wide referendum.”
Mrs Foster added: “Over the coming weeks, and months I will work for stability and the best possible exit negotiation to ensure the people of Northern Ireland get the deal they deserve. As an Executive we will continue to work together in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland and to ensure stability in Northern Ireland.
“Throughout the referendum campaign I pledged that in the event of a leave vote I would work with the national government and I have already spoken with the Secretary of State. I welcome the comments from the Prime Minister this morning that he and his colleagues will work with all the devolved regions of the United Kingdom to implement the will of the people and to work together on the forthcoming negotiations.
“The negotiated exit from the European Union will happen over a considerable period of years. Regardless of how we all have voted it is now important that we work together to build on the potential that this historic opportunity provides.
“Finally, I want to pay tribute to the Prime Minister David Cameron who I have spoken with this morning. Despite our differences on the question of the UK’s membership of the EU I have the utmost respect for what he has done for our nation.
“I have enjoyed a good working relationship with him and I want to thank him for his contribution as Prime Minister. Politics is a very tough trade but above all else we serve at the pleasure of the people.”