Arlene Foster refuses to be drawn on fully quitting DUP

First Minister Arlene Foster has described the last week as “turbulent” as she refused to be drawn on speculation she will fully quit the DUP when she steps down as leader.

The Fermanagh/South Tyrone representative otherwise spoke frankly when she addressed the media following a visit to a primary school in Newtownards, Co Down.

Mrs Foster said she still had not seen the letter putting forward a motion of no confidence in her leadership, understood to have been signed by around 80% of DUP MLAs and MPs.

However, she said the numbers had made the situation clear to her, although not yet knowing the reasons for their actions was “a disappointment”.

“Politics is a very brutal game,” Mrs Foster said.

“I haven’t actually spoken to any of the colleagues who are reported to have signed the letter. They haven’t been in touch. That’s a matter for them.

“I’ll move on and look forward, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter as to what I’m going to do with my life.”

Mrs Foster, who took over from Peter Robinson five-and-a-half years ago, will step aside as DUP leader on 28 May and as First Minister at the end of June.

She has also confirmed that she will not be continuing as an MLA after handing over the reins of the party to her successor - but whether she will remain a DUP member is unclear.

It has been reported that she is unhappy with the direction of the party.

Quizzed on that by reporters, Mrs Foster would only say: “I joined a party that wanted to look forward, that wanted to build a Northern Ireland for everybody, that recognised that there were divisions in society and to try and deal with those divisions and to move Northern Ireland to a better place.

“And I hope that’s the direction of the party that continues.”

Further asked if she would back Edwin Poots, who has already announced his candidacy, Mrs Foster said: “I’ll obviously want to see who all is in the race for the leadership.

“We’ll wait to see who else is in the race.”

A number of DUP politicians have backed Edwin Poots for the party leadership in a series of videos posted on his account on Friday evening.

Paul Frew was announced as Mr Poots' campaign manager while fellow MLAs Paul Givan, Christopher Stalford, Mervyn Storey and Jonathan Buckley all endorsed his candidacy, as did MP Paul Girvan.

Edwin Poots said he has been "greatly encouraged" by the number of people who have come forward in support of his DUP leadership bid.

Mr Poots, who is so far the only person to declare their intention to seek the DUP leadership, posted a video on Twitter on Friday discussing his bid.

He said: "Since announcing my bid to become leader of the Democratic Party, I've been so greatly encouraged by the numbers who have come forward in support of me.

"Colleagues in Westminster, in the Assembly, from Donaghadee to Donemana, and from Belfast to Londonderry and lots of places in between have been joining me with my vision for the people of Northern Ireland. There's lots more to come."

His comments come after a number of DUP politicians backed Mr Poots for the party leadership in a series of videos posted on his account on Friday evening.

The DUP has never had a contested leadership race, but among those whose names have also been offered up by commentators are MPs Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Gavin Robinson.

They would be broadly seen as more moderate than the hardline Mr Poots.

Gavin Robinson, Edwin Poots, and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

Rules on double jobbing mean a sitting MP could not be First Minister though, and there have been suggestions the party faithful might prefer to split the two positions - with a leader based in Westminster while another senior member takes the reins at Stormont Castle.

As for what the future will hold for Mrs Foster, she has repeatedly said she will only turn her thoughts to what comes next when she has stepped aside as there is much work to be done in the meantime.

However, there appeared to be an emotional moment when she admitted she would miss working for her Fermanagh/South Tyrone constituents most.

  • Our Political Editor Tracey Magee analyses today's developments: