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Edwin Poots: Here's what you need to know about the new DUP leader

Poots has said he would split the roles of party leader and Stormont first minister.

Edwin Poots
Edwin Poots
Image: Brian Lawless via PA Images

IT WAS CONFIRMED this evening that 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).

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

So, who is Edwin Poots and what has his role been in the DUP so far?  

Poots has a long tradition in the party.

His father, the late Charlie Poots, is attributed as one the founding members of the party alongside the late Ian Paisley senior in 1971.

His son followed in his footsteps, starting his political career on Lisburn City Council and he was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998.

Since then, Poots has held four ministerial portfolios – culture, environment, health and he is currently agriculture minister.

His current job could be regarded as a comfortable fit for the Lisburn man who comes from a farming background, however the role became less so at times as the minister with responsibility for implementing the checks required under the Northern Ireland Protocol.

A challenging year

2021 has also been a challenging year for Poots personally having received a diagnosis of kidney cancer, discovered by chance when he underwent surgery on a burst appendix before Christmas.

He briefly stepped aside from his ministerial portfolio in February but was back at his desk by early March following a successful operation.

Identified as coming from the more hardline/religious fundamentalist wing of the party, Poots also has a reputation of enjoying good working relationships.

He raised chuckles in the Assembly chamber earlier this month in a fond tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh when he told MLAs he empathised with how “attempts at humour could become gaffes”.

“The duke was known for his sharp mind, for his wittiness, and sometimes that got him into trouble so his quips could become gaffes … and as someone who does that occasionally myself, I can appreciate the quandary that he finds himself in, you want to engage with people and you want to lighten an atmosphere and sometimes it just doesn’t work right,” he told MLAs.

Amid the recent rumblings of discontent against outgoing DUP leader Arlene Foster, Poots made little secret of his political ambitions and has long been seen by many as the leading contender to replace her.

Leadership bid

As part of his bid for the leadership, Poots stressed that he would “reform [the] party” and “reinvigorate unionism”.

Poots vowed to end a party culture of policy-making “on the hoof”.

His pledge to make policy-making more participatory was included in a “manifesto for reform” that he circulated to the members of the DUP’s electoral college this week .

Poots has vowed “real and meaningful” changes which he said will put decision-making back into the hands of elected representatives.

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Among the proposals is the establishment of a strategic policy body to “deliver the leadership and policy ambitions of the party”.

What happens now? 

Poots has 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. 

Reacting to his election, Poots 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.

With reporting by Rónán Duffy and Press Association

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