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Jeffrey Donaldson confirmed as new DUP leader without contest

The Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he looks forward to “working constructively” with the new DUP leader.

Image: PA Images

Updated Jun 22nd 2021, 7:20 PM

JEFFREY DONALDSON IS to become the new leader of the DUP after he was the only candidate to be nominated ahead of today’s noon deadline. 

Donaldson becomes leader just weeks after he was narrowly defeated by Edwin Poots in a leadership contest following the resignation of Arlene Foster. 

The Taoiseach Micheál Martin has congratulated Donaldson on the role. 

“I have worked with Jeffrey over many years in various roles and look forward to working constructively with him in the very important time ahead,” Martin said on Twitter.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney also wished Donaldson well in the role and said he looks forward to working with him “on the many challenges that lie ahead”. 

Poots became the DUP’s fourth ever leader last month but his tenure dramatically ended when he pushed ahead with nominating a First Minister in the Northern Executive against the wishes of most of his party’s representatives. 

Poots’ decision led to a revolt by party members and he signalled after a meeting of party officers last Thursday that he was to resign

In a statement following the confirmation that he will become leader, Donaldson sought sought to ease fears that the Northern Ireland Executive would collapse, saying that it “ensures every voice is heard”. 

He also again criticised the Northern Ireland Protocol, saying that it the UK Government must “step up and deal” with it. 

DUP representatives had signalled a desire to replace Poots quickly and the ascension of Donaldson to the top role achieves that goal. 

In a statement this afternoon confirming that Donaldson is to become leader, DUP chairman Maurice Morrow said that it has been a “difficult time for the party”. 

“The last number of weeks has been difficult for the arty and mistakes have been made. Now is the time to move forward in a spirit of humility and mindful that our focus must be on serving the people whom we represent,” he said. 

Lagan Valley MP Donaldson will be ratified as leader by the DUP’s central executive committee on Saturday. 

His coronation comes after he lost out to Poots in the May leadership election by just 19 votes to 17, the first such electoral contest in DUP history. 

Donaldson confirmed yesterday that he would be seeking the position again, saying that he would place at the centre of his leadership his opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Accepting the leadership, Donaldson said today that “the task ahead is great”. 

“I have the vision to lead unionism into its second century, by embracing those who believe in a Northern Ireland where people of all identities and none can live, work and raise their family. I have the vision to unite Northern Ireland and heal the divisions of the past. We don’t move forward by ignoring our past but by remembering and learning. I have the vision to lead a Democratic Unionist team who will inspire and command the confidence of those we are privileged to represent,” he said.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is the place where every element of our society is represented. The coalition government is unwieldy, but it ensures every voice is heard. Such partnership is how we should move forward. It must be based on respect for each other’s mandate. 
To that end, I will be speaking with the Prime Minister at the earliest opportunity to emphasise that it is not realistic to expect stability when every unionist representative in the devolved institutions opposes the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The government and those who claim to be protectors of peace and stability, must step up and deal with the Protocol in a manner which respects the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom. I want to bring stability and encourage everyone to focus on what unites us as a people rather than on what divides us. There has been too much focus on division and recrimination both within unionism and within Northern Ireland. I will play my part but the Government and Brussels must step up and recognise the flaws of the Protocol and how it was foisted upon Northern Ireland.

First Minister

His confirmation as leader also gives rise to further questions about the post of First Minister.

First Minister Paul Givan said yesterday that Donaldson will have his full support if he becomes DUP leader but the party officers have reportedly told Givan to step down

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Donaldson is not an MLA so he can not become First Minister himself. He previously stated that if he became DUP leader he would fight for a seat in the NI Assembly and to become First Minister. 

If Givan does step down, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill will also be removed from her post, triggering a seven-day period during which new office holders must be nominated or a fresh Assembly election will be called.

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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