Donaldson backing Poots in bid to reclaim lost seat in Lagan Valley

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said he hopes to see Edwin Poots’ name on the ballot paper in Lagan Valley where the DUP will be fielding three candidates in the Assembly election.

The DUP leader has also rejected the suggestion he encouraged Mr Poots to switch constituencies and seek the party nomination for South Down.

Mr Poots was rejected as the candidate for South Down, in favour of Diane Forsythe, when party officers met as a selection committee last week.

In a statement on Wednesday night, East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson suggested that Mr Poots was wasting his time seeking the South Down nomination, as “Diane is both the party officers’ and the party leader’s choice for South Down”.

DUP MLA Edwin Poots

That intervention prompted the party’s outgoing MLA for that constituency, Jim Wells, to claim the DUP ruling executive was more than likely going to overturn the previous decision and Mr Poots as the party’s sole candidate in South Down.

Speaking on the BBC’s Nolan radio show on Friday, Sir Jeffrey said he hopes Mr Poots will seek reselection as a candidate in Lagan Valley.

“I want Edwin standing alongside myself and Paul Givan,” he said.

Asked if he himself had offered to stand in South Down, Sir Jeffrey replied: “No I did not. I absolutely did not.”

He said: “When Edwin advised me that he had been approached by Jim Wells, and that he was considering putting his name forward I gave him clear advice – I said ‘Edwin, if that’s the case, and it has to be your decision, then you should put your name forward to the party officers, there is a selection process, and that selection process will follow’.

“In relation to South Down, when it became clear that Jim Wells was not going forward as a candidate, Edwin approached me and indicated that he had had conversations with Jim Wells and, on your programme, I heard Jim Wells say that he had approached Edwin about standing in South Down.

“We have a selection process that is democratic. Edwin put his name forward for South Down, which he if fully entitled to do.

“It is not my job as party leader to determine who will be a candidate in any constituency. That is a matter for the party collectively.”

When asked about Mr Poots’ claim that he spent months talking to the party leader, and the inference is that Sir Jeffrey encourged him to stand, the party leader said: “No one knows who I voted in the selection meeting only me. Secondly, yes I have had conversations with Edwin and with Paul.

“The conversations initially focussed on Lagan Valley, and on maximising our vote in Lagan Valley so that we can return as many seats as possible.”

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