Northern Ireland news

Mervyn Says No – Storey believed to have spurned offer to be Stormont first minister

DUP leader Edwin Poots (left) and with Mervyn Storey. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

THERE is growing speculation that Mervyn Storey has spurned his new leader's offer to become Stormont's first minister.

Ahead of an expectation that Edwin Poots will name his new ministerial team after his leadership is ratified tonight, a number of DUP sources have indicated that his preferred choice for first minister doesn't want the job.

Various reasons, from his family through to anticipated political difficulties, have been cited for Mr Storey's decision not to succeed Arlene Foster at the end of next month. The North Antrim MLA did not comment when contacted by The Irish News last night.

A supporter and friend of the new DUP leader – and with a similar religious outlook – Mr Storey was widely regarded as the favoured candidate for the first minister's role. A former finance minister and social development minister, the 56-year-old is popular within the DUP and is respected by MLAs from Stormont's other parties.

During the DUP leadership campaign earlier this month, Mr Poots said he would break with tradition by decoupling the party leader's job and that of first minister. The practice is not unprecedented – Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald sits in the Dáil rather than Stormont, while Séamus Mallon held the deputy first minister's post for more than three years from 1998, under the then SDLP leader John Hume.

However, DUP sources have suggested that Mr Storey was uneasy at being cast as "Edwin's mudguard", and that he was unwilling to pay the political consequences of working alongside Sinn Féin in the executive and taking decisions that could prove unpopular with the electorate, such as overseeing the implementation of Irish language legislation.

"I think after discussing it with his family and various people, as well as seeking guidance in prayer, Mervyn has decided to turn down Edwin's offer," one source said.

"I think he sees the role as a poison chalice and at the end of the day he couldn't be bothered with the hassle."

Speculation now focuses on the alternative candidates for the role, with Mr Poots' ally and fellow Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan being linked with the executive's joint top job.

However, it is also possible that having consulted with his MLAs and MPs since being elected leader, Mr Poots will decide to take on the role himself.

 

The DUP leader is expected to unveil some, if not all, of his new ministerial team over the coming days. Once his leadership is ratified tonight, paperwork needs to be carried out which transfers responsibility as Stormont nominating officer from Mrs Foster to Mr Poots. It may be next Monday, therefore, before any new ministerial appointments can be rubber-stamped.

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