FIRST Minister Arlene Foster has indicated that she is stepping away from political life – part of her announcement yesterday evening that she is to stand down from being First Minister.

At 4pm yesterday (Wednesday) Mrs. Foster released a statement to the press confirming her decision to step down as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party on May 28, followed by her stepping down as First Minister of Northern Ireland at the end of June.

Mrs. Foster said: “It has been the privilege of my life to serve the people of Northern Ireland as their First Minister and to represent my home constituency of Fermanagh South Tyrone.

“I first entered the Assembly in 2003 and undoubtedly the journey of the last 18 years has been memorable.”

Mrs. Foster was first elected to the Assembly as an Ulster Unionist MLA in 2003.

In the statement, Mrs. Foster indicated that she will be stepping away from political life. It is unknown at this stage who will succeed her, with Assembly elections due to take place next year.

“As I prepare to depart the political stage, it is my view that if Northern Ireland is to prosper then it will only do so built on the foundations of successful and durable devolution.

“That will require continued hard work and real determination and courage on all sides.”

In stepping away from elected life, Mrs. Foster looked to the future of Unionism and said: “Over the last 12 months, I have been holding online meetings every week with young people, mainly from Working Class communities, and encouraging them – especially the young women – to get involved.

“I echo that encouragement today. Politics and debate is the only path to effect change in society. You will and can be the MPs, MLAs and Councillors of tomorrow.”

Mrs. Foster reflected on some of the low periods in her leadership and said: “Of course, as with highs, there were lows along the way.

“The three years without Devolution caused untold harm to our public services, and the RHI Inquiry was a difficult period.

“The Protocol being foisted upon Northern Ireland against the will of Unionists has served to destabilise Northern Ireland in more recent times.”

Mrs. Foster was elected leader of the DUP in 2015, and she reflected on how her election “broke the glass ceiling for women in politics”.

She added: “I am glad I inspired other women to enter politics and spurred them on to take up elected office.

“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.”

Mrs. Foster closed her statement reflecting on the future of Northern Ireland. She said: “I have sought to lead the Party and Northern Ireland away from division and towards a better path.

“There are people in Northern Ireland with a British identity, others are Irish, others are Northern Irish, others are a mixture of all three and some are new and emerging.

“We must all learn to be generous to each other, live together and share this wonderful country.

“The future of Unionism and Northern Ireland will not be found in division – it will only be found in sharing this place we all are privileged to call home.”