Northern Ireland news

Stormont morning meeting that sealed Edwin Poots' fate

Edwin Poots left yesterday morning's meeting to participate in the first minister nomination process in the assembly. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

DUP MPs and MLAs awoke yesterday to alarm bells. What they were hearing on the morning news bulletins about plans for Westminster to legislate on Irish language and for Paul Givan to be nominated as first minister caused deep concern among many of them.

An email was sent to Edwin Poots asking for a meeting ahead of Mr Givan’s nomination at noon. It was 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 signed the email, with Mr Poots’s ally Ian Paisley being the exception.

The party’s five peers had 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. “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,” the email concluded.

Read more: Analysis: Edwin Poots took wheel of DUP bus and headed straight for cliff edge (premium)

Ian Knox cartoon 18/6/21 

The first and deputy first minister nominations followed a late-night deal after talks involving Sinn Féin, the DUP and Secretary Brandon Lewis which ended a stalemate over Irish language laws, with Mr Lewis declaring legislation would brought in by Westminster in October if not first introduced at Stormont. But DUP MPs and peers wrote to Mr Poots expressing their concern at the deal, asking Mr Poots to meet them “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”.

The party’s MPs had been invited to participate in a separate virtual briefing by Mr 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 are said have ensued, with several MLAs rising 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. It is understood up to 24 DUP MLAs and MPs – a significant majority that included Education Minister Michelle McIlveen – voted against Mr Poots’s decision to nominate a Stormont first Minister, with just four supporting the leader.

One senior party source told PA the atmosphere at the meeting was: “Dreadful. Utterly dreadful. Never experienced the like of it.”

Read more: Brian Feeney: Sinn Féin emerges stronger as DUP falls apart (premium)

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