AS the DUP begins the process of replacing Arlene Foster as leader, the party’s longest-serving politician in West Tyrone has said that members had long been disgruntled at the direction the party was taking.
Former MLA, Allan Bresland, was speaking in the wake of the First Minister’s resignation yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon. Mrs Foster will step down as the party leader on May 28, before departing from the top post in Stormont at the end of June.
Mr Bresland has told the UH that his constituency had become more and more vocal in its calls for change, due to people’s mounting concerns about the state of affairs in the North.
“Our grassroots members on the ground were never as disillusioned as they are now about the way the party is going,” he said.
“There are more than Arlene (Foster) who are responsible for this. The people haven’t been getting what they need to receive from the party and aren’t happy.
“I’m 30 years in politics and this is the first time people have started coming to me about the state of the country. The Unionist people are disillusioned because there has been equality for one side only – we have had two different equalities, one for the nationalists and one for the unionists.
“There are bound to have been better ways of providing leadership to the unionist people than what was given. We should have walked out of Stormont in the same way as Sinn Fein did.”
Mr Bresland, who lives in Sion Mills, has called for the party to begin providing greater leadership for all citizens, and not just those living east of the Bann. “They are forgetting about the people along the border. If we don’t grasp the opportunity now, then we’ll never do it,” he continued.
“We have to work at getting the best deal. Things were going well at a stage, but everything has been going just one way this last while. Arlene was trusted with the leadership but she had others around her as well.”
Speaking following her decision, Mrs Foster, said it had been ‘the privilege of her life’ to serve as First Minister.
But she called for party members to be given space as they begin the process of selecting her replacement.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, said she had spoken with Arlene Foster and wished her and her family well.
“I have worked alongside Arlene Foster this past year in what has been a difficult and challenging time for everyone with the unexpected onset of the Covid pandemic,” she said.
“The incoming DUP leader should recognise that the political landscape on our island has changed. The broad community are impatient for social reform and political change which reflects a modern and progressive society where everyone can feel that they belong on an equal basis.”