Losses to TUV prompt Arlene Foster heave as Alliance closes in on second spot; DUP sources say movement possible in 24 hours

DUP sources have indicated movement in the heave against Arlene Foster is possible within the next 24 hours.

Wednesday, 28th April 2021, 11:39 am

The DUP leader is under pressure this morning after a letter calling for her to go was signed by some of the party's MPs and MLAs.

The First Minister is facing a potential leadership challenge after a further letter was sent from a group of DUP councillors to Maurice Morrow, the chairman of the DUP, expressing concern over the direction of the party.

Arlene Foster with Michelle O'Neill

It states: "We as councillors and as members are deeply concerned about the future of unionism, Ulster conservatism and the DUP.

"As members and councillors, we have received the brunt of the anger from our voter base caused by ineffective leadership."

Mrs. Foster has been under pressure due to grass-roots disgruntlement with Brexit and the Irish Protocol and recent opinion polling that will have spooked the party just a year out from the next Assembly election.

According to the pollster Lucid Talk support for the DUP fell from 23 per cent to 19 per cent between October and January and Sinn Féin has been the most popular party for two consecutive surveys - steady at 24 per cent.

The DUP decline has been mirrored by gains for the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) which grew from six per cent to ten per cent and the Alliance Party whose support was up from 16 per cent to 18 per cent over the same period.

While no-one has yet openly declared they will challenge Mrs. Foster for the position as DUP leader a party source told the 'Journal' there could be movement on this front within the next 24 hours.

The feeling within the party, at present, is that that the ball is currently in Mrs. Foster's court but movement will be necessary so that decisive action can be taken within the next few days, the source said.

The DUP leader yesterday denied her position was under threat.

She said: "Stories on leadership come up from time to time, and it’s one of those times."

A spokesperson for the party stated: “The DUP conducts its business in accordance with its constitution and rules. The Officers of the Party oversee the conduct and organisation of its internal democratic electoral processes.

“Whilst understanding that there will be from time-to-time public interest in party processes, these issues, in the first instance, are matters for members of the party and we are not able to make any further comment at this time.”

Mrs. Foster replaced Peter Robinson as DUP leader unopposed in 2015.

The Fermanagh and West Tyrone MLA became the first female First Minister in 2015 after previously holding the finance, trade and environment portfolios over a number of mandates.

Mrs. Foster's elevation to the leadership of the DUP marked a watershed for women in unionist politics.

Up until Michelle McIlveen and Emma Little-Pengelly joining her on the Executive shortly before she became leader in late 2015 she had been the only unionist woman to have served as a minister.

In fact up until that time, in 2015, there were more Protestant women, Heather Humphreys and Jan O’Sullivan, in senior office in Dublin, than in Belfast.