Edwin Poots’ 21-Day Stay as DUP Leader

Aidan Lomas

In what feels like barely a few short seconds since the Gown published its profile on the incumbent Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader, Edwin Poots has resigned his office.

Edwin Poots’ 21-day stay as DUP leader came to abrupt conclusion on Thursday evening, 17th June. PA

Mr. Poots’ resignation came on the very same day Paul Givan was confirmed as First Minister of Northern Ireland, co-heading the Northern Ireland Executive alongside the returning deputy First Minster, Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill. Like many across Northern Ireland, as well as the mainland, the news of Mr Poots’s resignation came as a massive shock. What had been a fairly average Thursday quickly turned into a more pacified recreation of the Red Wedding.

First came the DUP’s internal revolt against the nomination of Paul Givan as First Minister. Prior to the Assembly’s confirmation of Mr Givan and Mrs O’Neill as the new First and deputy First Ministers, the DUP held a vote on the nomination of Mr Givan; the party voted 24 to 4 against his nomination. Regardless, despite having established himself as a leader who will “listen to the party” — a remark referencing his predecessor, Arlene Foster, and her more centrist position — Mr Poots ignored the Party Officers, and nominated Mr Givan to the Assembly on Wednesday 17 June.

Paul Givan was confirmed as First Minister for Northern Ireland alongside Michelle O’Neill following a tense stalemate between the DUP and Sinn Fein over an Irish Language Act for Northern Ireland; Sinn Fein had stated they would not support a candidate who would put up a barrier to this legislative proposal. The stalemate was broken once an agreement had been made between the parties involved, as well as Minister for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, which concluded Irish language laws would come to Northern Ireland whether by the action of the Assembly or Westminster.

Whenever a deal is made between Sinn Fein and the DUP, the leaders of both parties tend to come away looking more like peacemakers than stubborn, ostracised ‘has beens’. However, this deal wasn’t enough to save Poots’s seat as leader of the DUP. After being threatened with a vote of no confidence, Mr Poots resigned as leader with Thursday 18 June — less than a month since Arlene Foster announced her plans to resign as DUP leader and First Minister — being the day in which the DUP’s MLAs and MPs search for a new leader.

Who is likely to succeed Poots?

Despite claiming an electoral victory in round one, Edwin Poots’s leadership rival, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, MP for Lagan Valley, seems set to take the win in round two. According to Suzanne Breen of the Belfast Telegraph, Sir Jeffrey is popular with Alliance Party voters and UUP voters, making him ideal for rebuilding the DUP’s electability. It would seem that, despite it being Edwin Poots’ reasoning for not nominating himself for First Minister, should Sir Jeffrey stand for election and win, it will be him who allows the DUP to ‘build back better’.

Opinion: Poots’s decision to ignore his party on this issue was in the interest of Northern Ireland

Despite having been leader for what feels like less than the blink of an eye, Mr Poots’s ballsy decision to ignore the DUP and nominate Givan on Thursday, 17th June, was in the interest of Northern Ireland more widely; irrespective of party affiliation. Why do I think this? Ironically, because of Sinn Fein!

It’s been many months, and the best part of a pandemic, since the New Decade, New Approach agreement was established and the Northern Ireland Assembly was restored. In that time, largely (I’m sure) due to the blind sider that was Covid-19, the Assembly has been unable to bring about some of the key elements of the agreement; most importantly to Sinn Fein, this includes the Irish language laws.

For many years the party has, understandably and quite reasonably, argued for the passing of an Irish Language Act. This act, much like those present across the United Kingdom, would recognise Irish as an official language of Northern Ireland, whilst also bringing about, presumably, Irish language road signs and public informational documents written in the language. Despite the perfectly rational calls for an Irish language act, as it had been agreed in the New Decade, New Approach Agreement in January 2020, the act has not yet came to fruition. Because of this, when it came to Arlene Foster’s resignation announcement, Sinn Fein reaffirmed their commitment to Section 27 of the New Decade, New Approach agreement, — the part of the deal that commits Northern Ireland to the languages stuff — and stated they would only support a candidate who would support an Irish language act. Did this happen?

Well, considering it was Sinn Fein who presented the most support for Mr Givan, it’s pretty understandable that this did indeed happen. Paul Givan’s confirmation, and the new deal struck by the DUP, Sinn Fein, and Brand Lewis, assures me that an Irish language act, as well as an Ulster Scots language act, would come blinking into the usually dull word of Stormont Politics.

The recognition of these languages means that old wounds can start to be healed, and, just maybe, Northern Ireland’s politics can start to move forward, without needing to take too many steps back. Edwin Poots’s decision to ignore the DUP is a sign to me that he wanted what’s best for Northern Ireland. There are many arguments as to why an Irish language act is important for Northern Ireland, but for me it’s a matter of recognising the mechanisms established by the hallowed Good Friday Agreement; Paul Givan’s nomination, and the agreement struck this week, were efforts to working to a compromise.

Without mature compromises made by both sides, the Stormont system doesn’t work. That is to say, it doesn’t work unless you’re an MLA still being paid when the Assembly dissolves; I don’t know about you, but that really bugs me. Anyway, the important fact of the matter is that Mr Poots nominated Givan, and on this occasion ignored his own political position of stoic conservatism to put forward a name who could work with Sinn Fein to co-navigate the harsh waters of post-Brexit Northern Ireland; whether you support or oppose the UK’s exit from the EU, you can’t deny the early years aren’t going to be easy.

For this reason then, despite my own personal disagreements with Mr Poots’s politics, I have to admit I’m disappointed to see him forced out by his party this week. If he had been less-than-Democratic Unionist on any other matter outside of the Executive, I think I could have easily forgiven the DUP’s internal politics — christ, I might not even have been that bothered.

Edwin Poots’s forced ousting ostensibly due to his effort to get the ‘Northern Ireland ball’ rolling is something I think Northern Ireland will  be found to suffer from, rather than be cured by. Assuming Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is the heir apparent, I hope he can continue and expand on this cooperative approach to Northern Ireland’s politics.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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