Northern Ireland news

Close ally of Edwin Poots brands his resignation a ‘tragedy'

DUP MLA Jim Wells. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association
David Young, PA

A close ally of outgoing DUP leader Edwin Poots has branded his demise a tragedy.

Jim Wells said he believed there was truth to claims that DUP party officers had effectively forced Mr Poots from his post.

South Down MLA Mr Wells remains without the party whip having lost it three years ago for speaking out against the then party leadership.

Making pointed reference to the opposition Mr Poots faced in his short stint as leader, Mr Wells said he hoped his successor would not be subjected to a similar “guerrilla campaign”.

“It’s a tragedy that we’re here,” he said as he arrived at the electoral college meeting on Saturday.

“I don’t think Edwin Poots had the chance. I think Edwin Poots could have brought real purpose to this party.

“I believe he understood the ethos of this party and he had some great ideas to take the party forward to the next election and he just didn’t get a chance.”

Asked if he thought Mr Poots had been forced out by DUP party officers, Mr Wells said: “I think there’s a lot of truth in that.”

Mr Wells, who said it was important for members to get behind the new leader going forward, was one of a number of MPs and MLAs who spoke outside Saturday’s meeting.

East Derry MP Gregory Campbell said he hoped leader designate Sir Jeffrey Donaldson would bring some calm to the DUP.

“I think he will bring a sense of calm and map a way forward which we all have to engage in, bring everybody with us and unite the community and move on,” he said.

Mr Campbell, who backed Sir Jeffrey in the previous contest against Mr Poots, declined to be drawn when asked whether he was a central figure in the move against Mr Poots.

“What’s done is done,” he said.

“Edwin and I are good friends and remain good friends, as I do with everybody in the party. And hopefully we’ll all move on.”

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson told reporters he hoped Sir Jeffrey would be a “unifying force” for the DUP.

Upper Bann MLA Jonathan Buckley, who was Mr Poots’ chief of staff in his brief tenure as leader, said he would support Sir Jeffrey when he takes the reins of the DUP.

“Whoever leads the DUP will have my support,” he said.

Another member of Mr Poots’ camp, newly installed economy minister Paul Frew, did not to respond to media questions on whether he supported Sir Jeffrey.

First Minister Paul Givan, who was nominated to jointly lead the powersharing executive by Mr Poots, also did not speak to reporters outside the hotel.

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson, a supporter of Sir Jeffrey, said the electoral college vote was a “great result for the party”.

“There was unity of purpose in that room and here we go forward,” he said as he left the hotel.

“There was unity, the message was clear, we know what we need to do, we look forward to the executive (party executive meeting) and I see the party rallying around Jeffrey and we will move forward from here.”

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