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Interim DUP leader Gavin Robinson in Belfast Alamy Stock Photo

DUP focus ‘undiminished’ despite ‘difficult and shocking’ Donaldson resignation, Robinson says

Donaldson’s exit from the political front line sent shockwaves through Stormont, less than two months after devolution was restored.

THE DUP’S FOCUS remains “undiminished” despite an “incredibly difficult and shocking” six days since the resignation of former leader Jeffrey Donaldson, interim leader Gavin Robinson has said.

Donaldson quit last Friday after being charged with several historical offences.

Robinson told media in Belfast today there has been “unanimous support” from the DUP’s party officers for his appointment.

He said the decision on a permanent leader is an “internal issue”, adding that in the coming weeks the party will “have a discussion; on a collective basis we will decide what is the best way to proceed”.

“The last six days have been incredibly difficult and shocking, not just for us within the Democratic Unionist Party but for the community right throughout Northern Ireland,” Robinson said.

“Over the last number of days I have spent time engaging with colleagues.

“I have been encouraged not only by their support but their determination and recognition that what has gone before us is not reflective of us, it is not attributed to us.

“Nor should it deflect from the important task that we have ahead of us as representatives for unionism.”

Robinson went on: “In our meeting last week it was unanimous within our party officers that I would step up and lead on an interim basis at this time.

“I am prepared to do so because of the honour we have amongst our colleagues and the commitment we have for the days ahead.

“That is my task, and recognising the importance of restoring devolution, recognising the importance of our ability to serve the people that we are proud to represent, is what we are focused on.”

He also criticised those he said have “sought to manipulate the dreadful events of the last week for party political purposes, to sow discord or to achieve some narrow personal advantage”.

“I say shame on them,” he said.

“That is not what the people of Northern Ireland want and that is not where the people I have spoken to over the last week are.

“They appreciate the fact that devolution has been restored, they appreciate the positivity that our leaders within the Executive have brought forward for the people of Northern Ireland, and there is nothing that I can see in the short, medium or long term that should cause difficulty in that regard.”

Donaldson’s exit from the political front line sent shockwaves through Stormont, less than two months after devolution was restored following a two-year stalemate over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Donaldson was pivotal to the deal that resurrected powersharing. His sudden departure, and the manner of it, has created the first major challenge for the recently formed four-party coalition.

Robinson also insisted his party remains firmly committed to working within the restored political institutions at Stormont.

“Let me assure you all at home today that our focus is undiminished on making sure that our place within this United Kingdom is as strong as it can be, recognising the importance associated with the restoration of devolution, the importance of delivering for everyone in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“That is our focus, that shall not change, and, though this week has been difficult, we are firmly committed to the task ahead.”

Meanwhile, Robinson would not comment on the future of the Lagan Valley constituency, where Donaldson remains the MP.

He said: “That is not a matter for us and I will not be commenting on it. We suspended Jeffrey Donaldson from membership of the Democratic Unionist Party. He resigned as our leader at that time.”

Earlier, speaking in Banbridge, Co Down, Upper Bann DUP MP Carla Lockhart voiced her support for Robinson.

She insisted there are no “dissenting voices” challenging his installation, and said there will be “no leadership challenges”.

“Gavin has the support of the entire party, Gavin will do an excellent job,” she said.

Press Association