Arlene Foster’s decision to stand down is right for DUP and for unionism

This is the News Letter’s editorial column from Thursday, April 29, 2020.

Thursday, 29th April 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Thursday, 29th April 2021, 12:25 pm
News Letter editorial

For someone who showed no little resilience and fortitude when faced with previous threats to her leadership of the DUP, the end came very quickly for Arlene Foster on Wednesday.

On Monday, there had been little inkling that her position was under immediate threat, and indeed as recently as Tuesday afternoon, Mrs Foster appeared bullish, dismissing the News Letter’s front page story that DUP members were in “open revolt” about her leadership.

She was fortunate to survive the RHI scandal and her position was damaged further when unionism lost its majority in the Assembly for the first time in 2017.

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However, her fate was probably sealed at the beginning of this year when the scale of the disaster over the Northern Ireland Protocol began to emerge.

Mrs Foster and senior party figures were slow to react to the practical nightmares facing businesses here and the massive political implications of the Irish Sea border. They blamed Boris Johnson for betraying them, but ignored their own culpability. The crisis badly unnerved DUP MLAs and councillors who had become increasingly worried about retaining their own seats at future elections.

Even amidst mounting opposition, it took until later on Tuesday and Sam McBride’s report that 75 per cent of her MLAs supported a leadership election, for Mrs Foster to realise the extent of the disillusionment within party ranks.

She has made the right decision to go, not only for herself, but for the DUP and unionism as a whole with a pivotal Assembly election scheduled for 2022.

It appears that Mrs Foster will walk away from politics altogether when she stands down as first minister at the end of June, which will be a loss for a DUP Assembly party not blessed with many big hitters. She has shown some formidable qualities, not least for courageous way she has withstood abuse, especially of the misogynistic kind on social media. She deserves our best wishes for the future.

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Alistair Bushe