The DUP Finance minister at Stormont, Arlene Foster, is to become the next leader of the party after the DUP Deputy leader Nigel Dodds dramatically withdrew from the race to succeed Peter Robinson, leaving her as the sole candidate.
Robinson tweeted on Wednesday that he had “received a valid nomination” from Mrs Foster for the post “with the support of over 75 per cent of those entitled to vote in the electoral college”.
Dodds, the North Belfast MP, earlier issued a statement saying he would not be taking part in the forthcoming leadership contest, which is due to take place next Thursday. He had said he ruled himself out as leader after giving it “prayerful thought”.
DUP veteran Sammy Wilson, the MP for East Antrim, was reported to be considering challenging for the leadership after he previously backing Mr Dodds, but he has also now backed away from a contest.
Whether it was all choreography is a matter of debate, but with nominations closed with only one name put forward, Arlene Foster is now the DUP leader-in-waiting.
The politician from Fermanagh and South Tyrone, who made a high-profile defection from the Ulster Unionist Party in 2004, said she had been “humbled” by the level of support.
She said: “I am fully aware of the awesome challenge and indeed great responsibility that comes from being leader of the largest unionist party and indeed the largest party in Northern Ireland but I am very much looking forward to that prospect... We have much to celebrate and there is much good work to do.”
Any difficulties in sharing power with Sinn Fein would be “set aside” for the good of “Northern Ireland”, she added.
Meanwhile, rumours are continuing that Peter Robinson will join the House of Lords this Spring, from where it is reported he will function as the DUP’s ‘back seat driver’ for the foreseeable future.
ARLENE FOSTER - A BIOGRAPHY
Arlene Isabel Foster (nee Kelly) was born on July 17, 1970, in Enniskillen. Her father was a full-time RUC member from Dernawilt, a townland near Rosslea in County Fermanagh.
She was educated at Aghadrumsee and Moat primary schools, the Collegiate Grammar School for Girls in Enniskillen and then Queen’s University, where she graduated with a law degree and a certificate in legal studies.
She was a solicitor in private practice in Portadown and Enniskillen until she became an Ulster Unionist Assembly member for Fermanagh/South Tyrone in 2003.
Queen’s was to be her introduction to party politics. When she left, she remained active in the party through branch membership and the Ulster Young Unionist Council, which she chaired in 1995. In 1996, she became an honorary secretary of the Ulster Unionist Council, the governing body of the UUP. She was also elected to Fermanagh District Council.
The decision by the UUP to enter talks with Sinn Fein in 1997 and the subsequent agreement made her position within the party increasingly difficult. In November 2003, she was elected to the Assembly on an Ulster Unionist ticket, but, along with her close friend Jeffrey Donaldson, she almost immediately defected to the DUP.
While she is unapologetically unionist and a supporter of the Orange Order, her approach to northern nationalist is more of the rural ‘redneck’ variety than the traditional venom of the DUP in Belfast.
Known for her dismissive, arrogant demeanour, her sectarianism recently manifested itself in a televised rant against Catholic politicians, who she described as “rogues” and “renegades”. Nevertheless, her non-Presbyterian upbringing and UUP past still place her on the ‘moderate’ wing of the DUP.