Northern Ireland

Interim DUP leader doesn’t know when Sir Jeffrey Donaldson will quit as MP

Gavin Robinson said his party was looking for a suitable candidate to contest his predecessor’s Lagan Valley seat

DUP interim leader Gavin Robinson during his Talkback interview

Interim DUP leader Gavin Robinson has said he doesn’t know if or when Sir Jeffrey Donaldson will resign his Westminster seat, potentially triggering a by-election.

The East Belfast MP, who was automatically promoted to leader following Sir Jeffrey’s sudden resignation on March 29, after he was charged with historical offences, said there had been “no contact on a party basis whatsoever” with his predecessor.

Speaking on Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme, Mr Robinson said the Lagan Valley MP no longer had a role within the DUP.

He said he did not know if party colleagues had been in contact with Sir Jeffrey on a personal basis.

The interim leader said the party was in the process of finding a candidate to contest the Lagan Valley seat in the forthcoming general election.

Asked if Sir Jeffrey, who has been suspended from his UK government trade envoy roles, was likely to stand down, Mr Robinson said he didn’t know.

“I have said very clearly from last Friday that he is suspended from our party. That’s a decisive decision that we took, and that remains the case,” he said.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Lagan Valley MLA Emma Little-Pengelly. Picture by Hugh Russell
Former DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Lagan Valley MLA Emma Little-Pengelly. PICTURE: HUGH RUSSELL

“So in that scenario he cannot be a candidate for the DUP, and for us as a party our focus will now be on ensuring Lagan Valley gets representation that it needs, that they have the choice of a DUP candidate for whom they will have faith in, that will champion their community, that will invest in them, that will represent their views locally and on a national stage.”

Mr Robinson said the party was engaged in finding a suitable candidate to run in Lagan Valley, in the same manner as it was “in constituencies right across Northern Ireland”.

He said previously there may have been a “settled view to who it might have been” but that DUP colleagues were now working to “ensure Lagan Valley has a great choice”.

The interim DUP leader agreed that Sir Jeffrey was not able to serve his constituents under the current circumstances but said it was “definitely a matter for him” whether he resigned the seat.

“Let’s not assume Lagan Valley is without representation, the deputy first minister, our education minister, swathes of councillors have the privilege of representing Lagan Valley – they are invested in the community of Lagan Valley,” he said.

The East Belfast MP said he learned of the allegations against his predecessor the evening before they became public.

Mr Robinson said the DUP “recognised that our shock would be replicated right throughout communities, in individual homes right throughout Northern Ireland.

“But Gavin Robinson the person, or myself as an individual, that’s quite irrelevant in the situation in the sense that we collectively put ourselves forward to give leadership, to give hope, to give vision to the communities we’re honoured to represent,” he said.

“So you have to set aside some of the [personal] thoughts, some of those feelings and say there might be some weight on my shoulders now, but I have big broad shoulders.”