Latest Edwin Poots episode exposes Arlene Foster's weakness as DUP leader
ARLENE Foster is under renewed pressure to rein in senior party figures after Edwin Poots broke rank 24 hours after the executive approved tougher lockdown measures.
In an email sent to more than 80 people, the agriculture minister outlined his opposition to the decision in frank terms, lambasting what he labelled the "utter incompetence" of the Department of Health in preparing the second wave of Covid-19.
The missive was sent in reply to a member of the public who emailed MLAs to express concern over the impact of the latest restrictions.
It is unclear whether it was the Lagan Valley MLA's intention to issue it as a mass email.
It is understood Mr Poots voiced his opposition during Thursday's executive meeting, but did not vote against the approach taken.
The Irish News political commentator Brian Feeney said the email episode exposed Mrs Foster's inability to manage party factions.
“There are at least three factions in the DUP, the evangelicals, the libertarians and the MPs," he said.
“It is a sign of the DUP imploding that they have a weak leader and there is nothing she can do.”
MP Sammy Wilson has been continually criticised for undermining the executive’s health messaging through his actions and comments.
Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart also responded to Thursday's decision by publicly labelling it “hard to understand and accept”.
Mr Feeney contrasted Mrs Foster’s position with that of former DUP leader Peter Robinson in 2014, when he removed Mr Poots as health minister.
“You didn’t mess with Peter Robinson. She can’t do that, she doesn’t have the strength in the party to stand out and take on these factions.”
SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole yesterday labelled Mr Poots’ actions as “astonishing”. He said the contradictory message had undermined public confidence.
“Whenever you’ve agreed a set of public health measures, to immediately undermine confidence in it, is clearly not something that in my view is not acceptable for any minister to be doing,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Politics.
Speaking in the same programme, UUP MLA Doug Beattie, who is the deputy chair of the Executive Office committee, called on ministers to rally round each other, rather than pointing the finger.
“Our ministers need to really get a grip of themselves, they need to start working as one, there needs to be a single message coming out of our Executive,” he said.
But Mr Feeney dismissed the notion that collective responsibility can exist within the executive.
He said whereas coalitions are freely negotiated and agreed by its participants, Stormont’s executive is pre-determined by the requirement to have cross-community members, with its composition based on the D’Hondt formula.
“It’s not a coalition nor is it a government, much as unionists would love it to be. It can’t raise taxes or borrow money. It’s an administration which distributes the block grant,” he said.
“There is no requirement to have collective responsibility. Why is there a legal requirement that everything must be agreed by the first and deputy first minister? The answer is there’s no collective responsibility. If the deputy first minister doesn’t agree, nothing happens.”