Arlene Foster tight-lipped over who she wants to succeed her as DUP leader

Arlene Foster has remained tight-lipped over who she wants to see take over her role as DUP leader.

Sunday, 2nd May 2021, 5:37 pm
Updated Sunday, 2nd May 2021, 5:44 pm

The outgoing Northern Ireland First Minister said she is still unclear as to why members of her party moved against her.

Mrs Foster, who visited St Patrick’s Church in Coleraine for an event to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland, said it is now up to the party to decide its next leader.

“I still haven’t received the letter, or motion, or whatever it is that was signed by members of the party, so I can’t say what the reasons are behind the decision for people to ask me to move on,” Mrs Foster said.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

First Minister and DUP Leader Arlene Foster remains tightlipped over who she wants to see take over as leader of the DUP

“But whatever about all of that I’ve made my decision. It’s now up to the party to decide on a new leader for the way forward so I wish them the best for that.”

Asked if she believes misogyny played a role in the decision to oust her, Mrs Foster said: “I haven’t seen the letter so I’m unclear as to the reasons why, so we’ll wait and see what comes out when I receive that.”

DUP Minister Edwin Poots is the only member to officially put his name forward for the leadership role.

While he remains unchallenged in his bid to become party leader, it is thought likely Sir Jeffrey Donaldson will announce his candidature in the coming days.

It is understood Sir Jeffrey will announce his leadership bid on Monday, coinciding with the centenary of Northern Ireland.

Mrs Foster would not give away who she would like to see pick up the reigns of the party.

“Well of course the leadership election hasn’t started yet, the officers haven’t set out the plan as yet,” she said.

“So we’ll see who the choice is when the candidates come forward and then I’ll make my decision.”

The outgoing DUP leader was joined by other party colleagues during the service in Coleraine.

MPs Gregory Campbell and Ian Paisley were among those who attended, as well as TUV leader Jim Allister, former Labour MP Kate Hoey and independent MLA Claire Sugden.

Earlier on Sunday it emerged that Mr Poots has plans to split the roles of party leader and Northern Ireland first minister if he is elected to the top job.

Mr Poots is expected to turn down the first minister’s role if his leadership campaign succeeds.

In a statement to the Sunday Life, a spokesman for the Agriculture Minister confirmed his intention to appoint a DUP colleague to the joint-head of government while he takes the reigns of the party.

The newspaper also reported Mr Poots has a plan in place for his first 90 days as leader.

The plan is said to include “rebuilding the core and the foundation of the party”.

In a statement to the newspaper, a spokesman for Mr Poots said: “Edwin will split the roles of leader of the party and first minister.

“Edwin knows the job at hand and for that reason will split the roles.

“He will reshape the party for the future whilst putting in place a good team to work with him and the other parties in a five-party Executive, ensuring that people of Northern Ireland get the Government they need.

“The policies of promoting the NHS and building our economy are central to the benefit of being part of the Union for all our people, no matter class, creed or gender.

“Together, we can make this work.”

It comes after Mr Poots’s campaign manager claimed he has received the endorsement of the majority of politicians who decide the next leader of the DUP.

The vote to choose who succeeds Mrs Foster is carried out by a small electorate, comprising only of the party’s elected representatives in Stormont and Westminster.

Paul Frew, who is Mr Poots’s campaign manager, claimed he has received the majority backing of their MLAs and MPs.

The pace at which the DUP moved to oust Mrs Foster came as a surprise to many, not least the outgoing party leader.

Discontent at the DUP’s Brexit strategy was a major factor in the move against her, 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 has taken on some social issues.

Last month, Mrs Foster was one of five DUP assembly members who abstained on a vote calling for a ban on conversion therapy.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said Mrs Foster could “hardly be described as progressive” for abstaining on the motion.

“We know who the DUP are. The fact that Edwin Poots is the lead candidate, I think, speaks to who the DUP are at their core,” Ms Long told BBCNI The View programme.

“The fact that the push against Arlene Foster wasn’t as a result of progressives in the party feeling she hadn’t gone far enough, but those regressives in the party thinking she had gone too far, speaks volumes.

“So, irrespective of who the DUP picks as their leader, that leader will be constrained by the membership, and by the kind of policy positions that they’re going to take consistently.”