Northern Ireland power-sharing hangs in the balance after Poots resigns

New DUP leader Edwin Poots

New DUP leader Edwin Poots - Credit: PA

Concerns are quickly rising over the future of power-sharing in Northern Ireland after DUP leader Edwin Poots stepped down after just 21 days in the role. He becomes the shortest serving leader in the history of the party. 

He resigned after an internal revolt against him began over a deal he agreed with Sinn Féin and the British government about Irish language legislation. The deal allowed Sinn Féin to resurrect the previously halted Stormont executive and led to Poots formally nominating his protégé Paul Givan as first minister. 

In an announcement he said “I have asked the party chairman to commence an electoral process within the party to allow for a new leader of the Democratic Unionist Party to be elected.

He added: “The party has asked me to remain in post until my successor is elected. This has been a difficult period for the party and the country and I have conveyed to the chairman my determination to do everything I can to ensure both unionism and Northern Ireland is able to move forward to a stronger place.

A meeting of DUP party officers was held in Belfast on Thursday following the news that a revolt may be underway to oust Poots, with the potential facing a vote of no confidence. This meeting has been described as “bedlam”. 

Conservatives have also expressed their anger at the party, calling the DUP “dinosaurs” amidst the crisis. One MP told the MailOnline that “the DUP don't have a strategy apart from how best to put people off voting unionist”. 

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Lagan Valley MP who narrowly lost out to Poots in the race to replace Arlene Foster, is the current favourite to step into Poots’ shoes. He has the support of Foster’s old guard and could win over the Paisleyite Free Presbyterian base that previously backed Poots. However, critics say he has a tense relationship with Givan. Sammy Wilson, MP for East Antrim has also emerged as a potential candidate. 

Poots’ successor inherits a party that remains bitterly divided, both on ideology and policy. The party’s critics say that their continuous failings led to the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol and the Irish Sea border. 

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The Stormont assembly could continue until the next scheduled election in May 2022 as Givan may be left in place by the party. But, as the DUP’s catastrophe continues to leak into the assembly and executive, an early election is said to be likely. 

In the event of this, recent polling suggests that the DUP will drastically lose votes to Traditional Unionist Voice, the Ulster Unionist party and Alliance. But, Sinn Fein now emerges the most popular party, both in Northern Ireland and the republic, and could pick up the most votes from the DUP, with a current  9% lead over the party. Meanwhile, under Poots the DUP dropped to just 16%. 

This all unfolds just days before the 100th anniversary of the opening of the first Northern Ireland assembly.

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