Leading article

Opinion: Edwin Poots' position is untenable and it is time for Arlene Foster to intervene

Edwin Poots took a direct swipe at his fellow unionist minister Robin Swann. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye
Leading Article

If Arlene Foster believed she had the internal authority as DUP leader to remove Edwin Poots from the Stormont Executive, it must be expected that his departure would already have taken place.

Mrs Foster endorsed a revised set of lockdown revisions last month, only for Mr Poots to blatantly undermine the credibility of his own first minister by declaring that the DUP was opposed to the measures.

Mr Poots then went much further, and made clear that he viewed the covid crisis in what could only be regarded as deeply political terms by claiming that it was more prevalent in nationalist than unionist areas `by around six to one.'

The reality was of course that the pandemic had ebbed and flowed across various districts where the common denominator was social deprivation instead of religion.

Mr Potts later responded to widespread criticism of his remarks by making a bizarre suggestion to this newspaper about the attitude of Sinn Féin members to attending Mass.

With this history, there will not have been particular surprise that he again intervened in the coronavirus debate on Friday by opposing the latest restrictions introduced by an executive in which he continues to sit.

Mr Poots also took a direct swipe at his fellow unionist minister Robin Swann, saying, "The failure of the health department will inevitably lead to the failure of the economy."

The consensus in our divided executive, and across wider society, is that the restrictions proposed by Mr Swann are essential in the most difficult of circumstances.

Mr Poots is entitled to disagree but by this stage it is obvious that he should be putting forward his opinions from the back benches of the assembly.

If he does not feel that resignation on a point of principle is a necessity, Mrs Foster should plainly have taken the decision for him.

However, Mr Poots remains in his post and his ally, Westminster MP Sammy Wilson, equally sees no difficulty in repeatedly ignoring the regulations on the wearing of face masks while using public transport.

All the indications are that an unusual power struggle is under way within the DUP, with some prominent figures apparently believing that they do not need to observe either the normal rules on collective responsibility or on occasions the actual law of the land. If Mrs Foster ignores what is happening, she is likely to finish on the losing side.

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Leading article