Northern Ireland

Edwin Poots: Frequently outspoken DUP veteran is no stranger to controversy

Edwin Poots. Picture by Mark Marlow/PA Wire.
Edwin Poots. Picture by Mark Marlow/PA Wire. Edwin Poots. Picture by Mark Marlow/PA Wire.

Edwin Poots is no stranger to controversy.

One of the DUP’s most experienced politicians, the former Lisburn councillor has been in charge of four Stormont departments over the years - culture, environment, health and agriculture. Not to mention his short-lived stint as DUP leader and his current position as assembly speaker.

South Belfast MLA under fire from TUV’s Jim Allister over clock cleaning comment

This week, Mr Poots came under fire from TUV leader Jim Allister after the DUP MLA said he would “clean his clock” for remarks made about the new Speaker as Stormont sat again on Saturday.

While some have interpreted the comment as potentially violent, others have suggested it is a colloquial term for a sharp reprimand.

It is not the first time the 58-year-old farmer has found himself defending his choice of words.



Arlene Foster

In 2016, he defended comments made regarding the appointment of Arlene Foster as first minister.

As Mrs Foster took Stormont’s top post, Mr Poots said her “most important job” remained “that of a wife, mother and daughter”.

DUP leader for 21 days

After the brutal ousting of Ms Foster, which Mr Poots was at the heart of, he narrowly beat Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to become DUP leader. He lasted just 21 days in the job following an internal party revolt.

Edwin Poots vs Gary McMichael

Rewinding the clock back to the beginnings of Mr Poots’ political career, the fresh-faced unionist challenged a prominent loyalist during a DUP meeting in Lisburn arranged to discuss the Good Friday Agreement, as former first ministers Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson looked on.

In front of a packed venue, Mr Poots rounded on Gary McMichael of the Ulster Democratic Party, once the political wing of the UDA, grabbing a microphone and saying “Come on big fella, come on” before gesturing in his direction to approach him.

Gun shots when health minister

In 2012, while serving as health minister, the DUP man fired shots from his legally-held shotgun from an upstairs bedroom after being alerted to intruders on his property.

At the time a party spokesman said the shots were fired “from within his house to alert the intruders that their presence was known”.



Theory of evolution

A Free Presbyterian, Mr Poots rejects the theory of evolution, stating while culture minister in 2007 that he believed the earth is only several thousand years old.

“My view on the earth is that it’s a young earth. My view is 4000 BC,” the father-of-four said.

During an interview he added: “And you’re telling me that all of this evolution took place over billions of years, and yet it’s only in the last few thousand years that man could actually learn to write?”

Edwin Poots’ son, Luke Poots

In 2013, it emerged that Mr Poots was a passenger in the vehicle when his son, former DUP councillor Luke Poots, was stopped by police for careless driving.

He wrote to the Attorney General accusing police or prosecutors of leaking the incident to the media to cause “maximum embarrassment”.

In 2018, he was caught up in controversy after it emerged that his son Luke, who was then a councillor, had voted on planning applications for which Mr Poots lobbied.

Mr Poots told BBC News NI: “No conflict of interest has been exercised in any shape or form by either myself, my son, other DUP members or anybody else on the council.

“The council makes their decisions based on the information provided to them.”

LGBT

In 2017, a complaint was made to the assembly standards commissioner about a tweet which, it was claimed, associated the LGBT community with paedophilia.

Mr Poots was commenting on an article speculating that Prince George was “a gay icon”.

“Making children an icon of sexuality today, pedophilia [sic] tomorrow. Absolutely disgusting,” he tweeted.

The DUP's Edwin Poots and the tweet posted the message on X
The DUP's Edwin Poots posted the message on X

Covid 19: ‘Catholic coronavirus’

In 2020 Mr Poots refused to apologise for `Catholic coronavirus’ comments, saying bad behaviour spread the virus.

This sparked a storm of criticism from other parties, with Sinn Féin labelling his language “sectarian claptrap”.

But the Lagan Valley representative was unapologetic.

He said “a lot of the problems started after the Bobby Storey funeral...and people in that community saw the breaking of the rules”.

Mr Poots further claimed his remarks were not sectarian because “most Sinn Féin leaders aren’t regular Mass-goers”.

Blood donation

When health minister in 2012, he faced criticism over comments about blood donation.

The DUP is a socially conservative party and Mr Poots has supported policies in that mould.

He defended his ban on donations from gay people, saying it should be extended to people who have sex “with somebody in Africa or sex with prostitutes”.

Brexit

In 2022, Mr Poots unlawfully took a politically motivated decision in ordering a halt to Irish Sea border checks, the High Court ruled.

Quashing the instruction issued to Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) staff, a judge held that Mr Poots breached a legal obligation to implement inspections on goods entering Northern Ireland’s ports.

His father, Charlie Poots

Steeped in traditional Paisleyite politics, Mr Poots’s father Charlie was a close associate of the former first minister and a founding member of the DUP.

Mr Poot’s senior died in 2020 aged 90 at the height of the first coronavirus lockdown.

Charlie Poots was also outspoken, stating at the height of the Troubles in 1975 that he would cut off vital services to Catholic areas if he was in charge.

“I would cut off all supplies, including water and electricity, to Catholic areas. And I would stop Catholics from getting social security.

“It is the only way to deal with enemies of the state and to stamp out the present troubles.”

Mr Poots, a long-serving Lisburn councillor, was targeted in an INLA gun attack the following year but was uninjured.

Speaker of the assembly

Edwin Poots was elected Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly on February 3 2024 when the powersharing institutions were reinstated following a two-year hiatus brought about by the DUP collapsing them in protest at post Brexit trading arrangements.