Northern Ireland news

David Ford says Edwin Poots lockdown criticism has more to do with internal DUP problems than Executive failures

Edwin Poots' public criticism of the executive's latest circuit breaker has been described as 'unprecedented'. Picture byKelvin Boyes/Press Eye

A former Stormont minister has claimed criticism by Edwin Poots of the latest coronavirus restrictions has "more to do with problems within the DUP" than the executive's failure to convey a coherent message.

David Ford said it was possible for ministers to demonstrate collective responsibility but that it required "good will and everybody sticking to the rules".

The former justice minister described the DUP agriculture minister's public criticism of the executive's latest 'circuit breaker' as "unprecedented" and a "solo run".

Mr Ford said while there had been past disagreements over policy within the executive, differences of opinion had been managed and ministers with minority views had accepted the outcome.

DUP leader Arlene Foster is under pressure to rein in Mr Poots, who within 24 hours of last week's executive approval of tougher Covid restrictions sent an email criticising the measures and accusing the Department of Health of "utter incompetence".

It is unclear whether it was the Lagan Valley MLA's intention to send the email containing the criticisms to more than 80 recipients, including many fellow assembly members.

Mr Poots is also understood to voiced his opposition to the executive's fresh measures when ministers met to discuss their latest response to the pandemic last Thursday.

Speaking to The Irish News, Mr Ford said past disagreements between Stormont ministers were typically based on "previous party positions".

"In the context of the executive dealing with a major international problem while ministers are openly criticising it, then it takes us into more difficult territory," he said.

"It probably illustrates more problems within the DUP than within the executive, which was always a bit unwieldy, but there's a difference between being unwieldy and falling apart in all directions."

The former Alliance leader said Mr Poots was "undermining ongoing policy" on a matter he would have assumed was "non-partisan".

"There's a difference between not being able to persuade the rest of the executive of your party position and some individual who can't shut his mouth," he said.

Mr Ford said his successor Naomi Long had demonstrated collective responsibility earlier this month by agreeing to what he termed a "compromise" even though she had sought a more stringent set of regulations.

"It was the best way of getting a compromise while recognising that people are coming from slightly different positions," he said.

"It's possible to have collective responsibility, not as we understand it in an entirely voluntary government but it requires good will and everybody sticking to the rules – and people acknowledging what the executive's mind is even if they are in a minority."

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