Could a Lagan Valley politician be the next leader of the DUP?

When Arlene Foster announced that she was standing down as leader of the DUP at the end of May, as well as First Minister at the beginning of June, speculation has been rife about who will take over the Party.

Thursday, 29th April 2021, 2:32 pm
Edwin Poots 7/4 - The Lagan Valley MLA is the current Minister of Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs - a portfolio he has held before. He has also served as the Minister of Health and is one of the DUP's most experienced politicians at Stormont.
Edwin Poots 7/4 - The Lagan Valley MLA is the current Minister of Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs - a portfolio he has held before. He has also served as the Minister of Health and is one of the DUP's most experienced politicians at Stormont.

So far no official contenders have announced their intention to run in the leadership election, however two local names seem to be at the forefront of the race - Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Lagan Valley MLA Edwin Poots.

Edwin Poots MLA who also served as a councillor on Lisburn City Council and was Deputy Mayor of the city in 2008, has served as Arts Minister, Health Minister and Minister for the Environment during his years at the Assembly.

A farmer, he followed in his father’s footsteps when he entered the world of politics.

Jeffrey Donaldson 3/1 - Like Arlene Foster, originating from the UUP gene pool, he was part of that party's negotiating team at the time of the Good Friday Agreement. He joined the DUP in 2003 and has served as a junior minister in the Executive. The Lagan Valley MP is the DUP leader in the House of Commons.

Having battled cancer last year, and temporarily stepping aside as Environment Minister, he has now returned to frontline politics and is currently being tipped as the frontrunner in the DUP leadership race.

Writing on Twitter, Mr Poots thanked the outgoing leader for her commitment to the DUP over the years. “I wish to thank Arlene for her service, sacrifice, and commitment to the DUP and Country,” he tweeted. “We all wish her well for whatever the future may hold for her and her family.”

Sir Jeffrey is Northern Ireland’s longest-serving current MP and since December 2019 he has been the leader of the DUP in the House of Commons.

He is a passionate advocate for Lisburn, Lagan Valley, and Northern Ireland as a whole and was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2016. He is also a member of the Privy Council.

Speaking to the Star, Mr Donaldson said he had yet to make a decision about whether or not he would be contesting the leadership of the DUP, however he is certainly being voiced publicly as one of the frontrunners.

Thanking Mrs Foster for her years of dedicated service to the DUP and to the country, Mr Donaldson said on Twitter: “Thank you Arlene for your service to our Party, people and country. You have served with great courage, conviction and a big heart for Northern Ireland, leading us through the pandemic and hopefully better times are ahead. I wish you and your family all the best for the future.”

There has been considerable speculation that whoever emerges as DUP leader may not take up the role of Stormont First Minister.

Edwin Poots, is believed to have signalled he is not interested in becoming the new First Minister for Northern Ireland unless he can be crowned as the new leader of the DUP.

There were reports on Wednesday that the DUP was considering splitting the leadership between Westminster and Stormont i.e. the new leader would be based in Westminster and the new First Minister in Stormont.

Local media reported on Thursday morning that in the hours after Arlene Foster confirmed she was to resign as leader of the DUP, the top echelons of the party were considering installing a new leader in Westminster with one of its existing MLAs taking up the reigns as First Minister.

However, according to reports, Mr. Poots is believed to have expressed an unwillingness to do this and is thought to have sights firmly fixed on becoming both the new party leader and the new First Minister.

The Star reached out to Mr Poots for comment but he was unavailable to immediately respond.