Leading article

Ominous prospects for Edwin Poots.

Arlene Foster is today starting what is widely expected to be her last full week as Stormont first minister before she departs in highly unusual circumstances.

When her term of office began in 2016, at the age of 45, her overall position was so strong that some observers suggested she might well remain in power for another two decades.

However, over the next number of years, her reputation suffered as a result of the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal, her notorious reference to crocodiles during the debate on Irish language legislation and the DUP's wider catastrophic error of judgment in supporting the Brexit debacle.

Any of those factors might have led to pressure for her resignation but, when the axe suddenly fell at the end of April, the reasons put forward by party sources were verging on the bizarre.

Most DUP MLAs had voted against an Assembly motion weeks earlier calling for a ban on gay conversion therapy, but Mrs Foster abstained, leading to unlikely claims that she was attempting to covertly steer the party in a liberal direction.

There were also repeated hints that DUP members wanted a more aggressive campaign against what has become known as the Irish Sea border, even though it was introduced by the party's previous close ally Boris Johnson as an inevitable outworking of his final EU withdrawal agreement.

What cannot be doubted is that an overwhelming majority of DUP MLAs and MPs demanded Mrs Foster to stand down as party leader immediately, which she did on April 28, but, almost six weeks later, the identity of her successor as first minister has yet to be confirmed.

The favourite is Paul Givan, who, as a result of his controversial attempts to save minuscule sums by cutting funding for the Líofa Gaeltacht scheme in 2016, arguably bears more responsibility than Mrs Foster for the subsequent suspension of our devolved structures.

In another surprising twist yesterday, secretary of state Brandon Lewis said the reluctance of the incoming DUP leader Edwin Poots to become first minister `will make things more difficult' during forthcoming political engagements.

It was an intervention which placed further pressure on Mr Poots, who has yet to unveil any policy initiatives which would distinguish him from Mrs Foster, and who, on the basis of all the recent opinion polls, is facing electoral prospects which can only be described as ominous.

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