Northern Ireland

DUP infighting continues as internal meeting turns into 'total shambles'

 DUP leader Edwin Poots (top) leaving the Chamber after nominating Paul Givan (bottom right) as First Minister, in the Stormont Assembly in Parliament Buildings in Belfast. Picture date: Thursday June 17, 2021.
 DUP leader Edwin Poots (top) leaving the Chamber after nominating Paul Givan (bottom right) as First Minister, in the Stormont Assembly in Parliament Buildings in Belfast. Picture date: Thursday June 17, 2021.

A significant majority of DUP MLAs and MPs are understood to have voted against Edwin Poots’s decision to nominate a Stormont First Minister.

The vote was taken after a heated internal party meeting at Parliament Buildings ahead of the nomination process in the Assembly.

The PA news agency understands that Mr Poots and First Minister designate Paul Givan had left the room before the vote took place.

One senior party source at the meeting described the atmosphere as, "dreadful. Utterly dreadful. Never experienced the like of it.” 

Another DUP source described the internal meeting as a “total shambles”.

Party MPs had been invited to participate in a separate virtual briefing by Edwin Poots at 11.30am but it is understood three of them – Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Gavin Robinson and Sammy Wilson – turned up to the MLA meeting in the members’ dining room at 11.15am without being formally invited.

Heated exchanges apparently ensued.

Several MLAs rose to their feet to voice objections to nominating before Mr Wilson spoke shortly before 12pm.

At that point it is understood Mr Poots and Mr Givan left to participate in the nomination process in the Assembly.

This morning DUP MPs and peers sent an urgent email to Edwin Poots urging him to hold off nominating Paul Givan as First Minister until he explained his decision to reconstitute the powersharing administration after Sinn Fein secured a key concession on Irish language laws.

A post-midnight announcement by the UK Government committing to pass the stalled laws at Westminster in the autumn, if they are not moved at the Stormont Assembly in the interim, was enough to convince Sinn Féin to drop its threat not to nominate a deputy First Minister as joint head of the devolved executive.

The development came after a night of intensive talks involving Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and DUP and Sinn Fein delegations in Belfast.

While Mr Poots has told his party he is willing to proceed with nominating Mr Givan, several senior members have now expressed concern at his course of action.

The email sent to Mr Poots, a copy of which has been seen by PA Media, is signed by defeated leadership candidate Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, party chairman Lord Morrow, senior MPs Sammy Wilson, Gregory Campbell and Gavin Robinson, former deputy leader Lord Dodds and a number of other senior members.

In total seven of the DUP’s eight MPs have signed the email, with Ian Paisley being the exception. The party’s five peers have also signed.

Many of those who have signed the email would have supported Sir Jeffrey in his leadership bid, though some, like MP Paul Girvan, supported Mr Poots’ candidacy.

The email read: “We note the announcement made by the Secretary of State in the early hours of this morning that both you and the Sinn Fein leadership have agreed to nominate a First Minister and deputy First Minister on the basis that Westminster will legislate on the Irish language and other matters if the Assembly fails to do so by October. We are also in receipt of your email this morning regarding this agreement.

“We are very concerned about this development and therefore, are urgently requesting that you meet with us as DUP Members of Parliament and peers to explain the basis of your agreement with the Secretary of State and Sinn Féin before any further steps are taken in this process, including the nomination of a First Minister. Assuming you will have prior consultation with your Assembly Group, we would be happy to join this meeting.

“You have often spoken of the need for accountability and transparency within our party and it is now essential that you consult with us as representatives of the people of Northern Ireland before you proceed further. We look forward to hearing from you thereto.”

Amid the unfolding internal DUP ructions at Stormont, former party leader Arlene Foster, who was ousted in a heave spearheaded by Edwin Poots supporters, tweeted about her “lovely lunch” in a Belfast restaurant.

Mrs Foster said she hoped everyone was having a “great day”.

“Just had a lovely lunch @DeanesAtQueens with a good friend,” she tweeted.

“It’s great hospitality is open again – Hope everyone is having a great day this lovely sunny afternoon. #ProudofNI.”