POLITICIANS across Ireland have paid tribute to Nicola Sturgeon after the First Minister of Scotland stood down after more than eight years.
Announcing her somewhat surprise resignation, Ms Sturgeon described the role as ‘the best job in the world’.
However, the 52-year-old leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) said she knew in her heart that the time was right to step aside.
“In my head and my heart, I know that time is now,” said Ms Sturgeon.
“That it is right for me, for my party, and for the country; and so today, I am announcing my intention to step down as First Minister and leader of my party.”
Sinn Féin Vice-President Michelle O’Neill said Ms Sturgeon’s absence would leave a void in the world of politics.
“As a friend and colleague, we have worked closely together in recent years, and I have seen the depth of dedication, commitment and energy that Nicola has given,” said Ms O’Neill.
“I wish to pay tribute to the huge strides she has made in advancing the campaign for Scottish independence, the strong stance against Brexit and the undermining of devolution by the Tories in London.
“The world of politics and all those of us who have had the great pleasure of working with Nicola Sturgeon will miss her leadership.
“She leaves a legacy for which anyone in politics or public life would be rightly proud and I want to take this opportunity to offer every good wish to Nicola and [her husband] Peter for the future.”
Party leader Mary Lou McDonald echoed Ms O’Neill, saying: “[Ms Sturgeon] has been an incredible advocate for the independence of her country, and I know that she will remain so as she steps down from office.”
Seanad leader Lisa Chambers said Ms Sturgeon’s exit was a blow, coming so soon after the resignation of Jacinda Ardern as New Zealand Prime Minister.
The Fianna Fáil Senator said she hoped it would act as a ‘wake-up call to the urgent need for more inclusive and diverse political systems around the world’.
“It is concerning that we are losing such talented and accomplished women from the political arena,” said Senator Chambers.
“We need to work together to create an environment that supports and encourages women to pursue leadership roles in politics and stay in public life.
“I am committed to fighting for gender equality and empowering women to reach their full potential.
“We need to create a more inclusive and supportive political culture that values the contributions of women leaders and recognises the unique perspectives they bring to the table.”
‘Lessons for a new Ireland’
Meanwhile, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Ms Sturgeon’s reign could act as a model for Ireland.
“Nicola’s legacy stretches far beyond Scottish politics,” he said.
“She has undeniably demonstrated that a movement for independence is made stronger when you set out an ambitious plan for what a new country will look like, how it will care for its citizens and how it can deliver on the aspirations of all its people.
“But more than that, she has shown how that can be done using the power and potential of devolved government for more than a decade.
“There are lessons in that for those of us who believe in a New Ireland.”
New leader for independence
Ms Sturgeon replaced Alex Salmond as SNP leader and First Minister following his resignation in the wake of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, when more than 53 per cent of voters opted against independence.
She has long campaigned for a second referendum but her plans for a 2023 vote were blocked by the UK Supreme Court in November 2022.
She admitted on Wednesday that the cause might now be better served by a new leader.
“Individual polls come and go, but I am firmly of the view that there is now majority support for independence,” said Ms Sturgeon.
“But that support needs to be solidified — and it needs to grow further if our independent Scotland is to have the best possible foundation.
“To achieve that we must reach across the divide in Scottish politics and my judgment now is that a new leader would be better able to do this.
“Someone about whom the mind of almost everyone in the country is not already made up, for better or worse.
“Someone who is not subject to quite the same polarised opinions, fair or unfair, as I now am.”
Ms Sturgeon will remain in office until a successor is in place.