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Taoiseach sends congratulations as Edwin Poots elected new leader of the DUP

Poots previously indicated that he will nominate a colleague to serve as First Minister.

New DUP leader Edwin Poots.
New DUP leader Edwin Poots.
Image: PA

Updated May 14th 2021, 8:40 PM

EDWIN POOTS HAS been elected as the new leader of the DUP. 

NI Agriculture Minister Poots won the contest against Jeffrey Donaldson by 19 votes to 17.

The choice for Poots was made by the 36 party members elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly (MLAs) and House of Commons (MPs).

He was congratulated this evening by political figures on both sides of the Irish sea, including the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister.

Poots succeeds Arlene Foster as the leader of the largest party in unionism after Foster took to the decision last month to step down. 

Paula Bradley MLA has been elected as the party’s new deputy leader. 

There were no public leadership hustings as part of the contest but both candidates circulated a manifesto to their voting colleagues of what they hoped to achieve.

Donaldson’s pitch was seen as the more moderate of the two candidates with Poots hitching his bid to more traditional and hardline unionist voters.

Poots has vowed to establish a “unionist convention” to maximise support for the pro-Union position and unionist representation in next year’s Assembly elections. 

Poots has also said he would split the roles of party leader and Stormont first minister, with the same person not being allowed to hold both roles.

This would mean he would not be Northern Ireland First Minister and would not have to work as closely with the Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister, potentially giving him a freer hand to focus on the party grassroots.

The SDLP and Sinn Féin have both split their leadership and executive roles, with Seamus Mallon and Martin McGuinness both serving as Deputy First Minister while not being party leader. 

Current Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill is deputy leader of Sinn Féin. 

Reacting to his election, Poots, who recently underwent cancer surgery, said: “It is an immense honour and pleasure to stand here today in this position, it is not a position that I expected to be in some weeks ago. However, things can change quite radically.”

I’m looking forward to a positive relationship right across Northern Ireland with my party colleagues and indeed with people from other parties.

“I think the opportunities for Northern Ireland are great, the opportunities for us to make Northern Ireland a great place after this 100 years has passed and we move into a new 100 years.”

Poots praised the “resilience” of Northern Ireland people through the first 100 years of its existence.

“It’s that resilience that we are going to go forward and make Northern Ireland a good place,” he said in an address at party headquarters in east Belfast.

“My father was a founder member of the DUP some 50 years ago, and I joined after the death of the Reverend Robert Bradford MP in 1981 and throughout all of that period this party has been the authentic voice of unionism and will continue to be the authentic voice of unionism under my leadership.”

Bradley, a North Belfast MLA, said it will be “a great honour to serve this great party”. 

“I will support our leader in any way I can. I may be a critical friend at times to our leader, but what more could you expect from me other than that.

“There’s a lot of hard work that we need to do but I think if we remain focused and we remain grounded within our communities and know those issues that our communities have to face then we can meet that challenge and can rise to that challenge and take our great party forward.”

Reaction

The Taoiseach congratulated Poots in a statement this evening.

Micheál Martin said: “His appointment comes at a critical time when it is ever more important for us to work together to keep the peace process firmly on track and to promote prosperity on both a North/South and East/West basis.”

“I wish Edwin every success in his new role and look forward to working closely with him, and all of the parties in Northern Ireland, to support peace, stability and progress in Northern Ireland and the Institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson also sent his congratulations.

He said: ““People across the UK are best served when we work together, & I look forward to working with him, [Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis] & the wider Executive as we build back stronger for the people of Northern Ireland.”

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In a statement, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald wished Poots well but warned of the challenges he faces as leader of the DUP.

She said: “For the last year the five parties in the Executive have worked together in the fight against Covid.  

“We must have the same unity of purpose and ambition facing the challenges ahead on the pathway to recovery. 

The incoming leader of the DUP faces a new political landscape in the north, across the island and indeed between our two islands. Change is happening and we need to prepare for it.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also congratulated Poots, adding: “Time now for everyone to recommit to working together.”

- With reporting by Press Association 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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