She will step down from party leadership at end of May and Stormont position the following month
Mrs Foster said it had been the privilege of her life to “serve the people of Northern Ireland as their first minister and to represent my home constituency of Fermanagh/South Tyrone”.
“My election as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party broke a glass ceiling and I am glad to inspired other women to enter politics and spurred them on to take up elected office,” Mrs Foster said.
“I understand the misogynistic criticisms that female public figures have to take and sadly it’s the same for all women in public life.
“I want to encourage you to keep going and don’t let the online lynch mobs get you down.”
It comes after 75% of the Democratic Unionist Party‘s (DUP) Northern Ireland Assembly members signed a letter demanding a leadership contest.https://f2c04b76dca851348269de134ba530c3.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.htmlAdvertisement
Eight of the party’s 18 constituency associations submitted letters of concern over the leadership’s handling of the Northern Ireland Protocol and other issues.
Mrs Foster played down the threat when speaking to reporters yesterday afternoon, saying: “Stories on leadership come up from time to time, and it’s one of those times.”
On Wednesday afternoon, she released a statement saying that she would step down as leader of the DUP on 20 May and as first minister of Northern Ireland at the end of June.
Mrs Foster, in the six minute statement, reflected on an 18-year career in the Stormont Assembly, saying how proud she was of her achievements.
She said: “I am the first to recognise that there have been ups and downs over this last five and a half years (as party leader). The 2016 assembly election results and our party’s best ever Westminster result in 2017, stand out amongst the high points…
“Of course, along with the highs, there have been lows along the way. The three years without devolution caused untold harm to our public services.
“I am proud that there is a young generation of Democratic Unionists getting involved in politics and trying to shape Northern Ireland for the better.
“Over the last 12 months, I’ve been holding online meetings with young people, mainly from working class communities and encouraging them, especially the young women, to get involved. And I echo that encouragement today. Politics and debate is the only path to affect change in society.”
Mrs Foster has endured a turbulent time as DUP leader and the fall-out from Brexit – which the party supported – has put particular pressure on the party’s top brass as it faces having to weather the storm caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol, which imposed a border down the Irish Sea.
It has also been suggested recent changes to NI’s abortion laws and the commitment to implement an Irish language act were causing concerns with some elected DUP representatives ahead of next year’s assembly election.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, whose resignation has also been demanded by the party’s councillors, tweeted: “Arlene has 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.”
– Additional reporting PA