DUP leadership: Four of leading contenders are contrasting characters

The top contenders to be the next leader of the DUP are a diverse group, with varied careers, personalities and outlooks.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 30th April 2021, 6:00 am

DUP minister Edwin Poots, 55, who announced his candidacy yesterday, comes from a multigenerational DUP family and was close to former DUP leader Rev Ian Paisley.

His father Charlie was considered one of the founding members of the DUP and was an MLA in the 1970s while Edwin’s son, Luke, has also served as a DUP councillor in Lisburn borough.

Mr Poots was educated at Wallace High School and Greenmount Agricultural College and farmed before becoming a DUP councillor in Lisburn borough, and then an MLA in 1998. Since then he has served as minister for health, culture, environment and, currently, agriculture.

Edwin Poots

Married to Glynis with a large family, he is a creationist and long-standing member of Hillsborough Free Presbyterian Church.

He courted controversy as health minister in 2011, when he opposed a ban on blood donation from gay men and has opposed gay couples from being allowed to adopt children. He also slammed MPs for relaxing NI’s strict abortion legislation in 2019.

In January he revealed he had cancer on his kidney and stepped down briefly for surgery before taking up his post again.

He withdrew staff from carrying out Brexit checks at Larne port in February, citing fears of paramilitary attacks linked to the NI Protocol – something the PSNI later said was not credible.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

While seen as firmly on the fundamentalist wing of the party, even political rivals admit he is easy to get along with.

Lagan Valley Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn said: “We are poles apart politically but I have known him politically for 20 years and he has been a good friend to me.”

Keen supporter Jim Wells MLA reports his colleague is “very keen” to take on the leadership and multiple sources report that he has been building support across the Province for some time.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is a vastly experienced, high-profile politician who has represented the Lagan Valley as MP for 23 years.

Christopher Stalford

From a Presbyterian background in Kilkeel, he left the UUP in 2004 in opposition to the Belfast Agreement. A former UDR soldier, he is the DUP’s spokesperson on Troubles legacy issues.

Sir Jeffrey became the youngest MLA in NI when elected in 1985, aged 22.

As well as experience serving on Parliament’s Privy Council and a number of Westminster committees, Sir Jeffrey has been a junior minister at Stormont and a member of the party’s negotiating team – including during the talks that produced the 2016 Stormont House Agreement.

In the Commons, he spoke out strongly against Westminster legislating to liberalise abortion law, and to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland while the Stormont Assembly was suspended.

Gavin Robinson

Last year he backed a call from the Presbyterian Church to allow Christian business owners an exemption from the legislation requiring them to serve same-sex weddings.

The 58-year-old’s name has not been mentioned as one of the many senior party figures to have signed the letter calling for Arlene Foster to step down, and has not yet revealed if he declined to add his name to that list.

He was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list of 2016.

Gavin Robinson is MP for East Belfast and a former lord mayor of Belfast.

A former barrister, he serves on the Defence Select Committee in Westminster. He also serves in the Commons as the party’s spokesman on both defence and home affairs.

He was special advisor to First Minister Peter Robinson until 2015, when he resigned to stand as an MP.

In that battle he won back his leader’s East Belfast seat for the party from Alliance leader Naomi Long.

At 36, he is from a younger generation than other contenders and would be seen as on the more liberal wing of the party.

He began his political career on Belfast City Council in 2010 and became lord mayor in 2012.

Mr Robinson recently met with the Loyalist Communities Council to discuss opposition to the NI Protocol, attending the meeting with party leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds.

Christopher Stalford is the principal deputy speaker in the Assembly and an MLA for South Belfast.

Educated at Wellington College and Queen’s University Belfast, his career to date has been fully within the DUP, becoming an MLA in 2016.

Married with a large family, he worked in Jim Allister’s office back when the TUV leader was a DUP MEP, and later became a party researcher.

When serving on Belfast City Council he served as high sheriff of Belfast in 2010 and as deputy lord mayor in 2013.

In 2018 he stayed tight lipped after facing bruising public criticism from his own Free Presbyterian minister at the Martyr’s Memorial Church in Belfast, for attending a GAA match with Arlene Foster on a Sunday. 

He was known to be close to Mrs Foster but would also be seen as socially conservative on issues such as abortion and LGBT matters.

:: Paddy Power’s odds on the leadership are Edwin Poots 4/6; Jeffrey Donaldson 6/4; Christopher Stalford 10/1; Gavin Robinson 21/1; Diane Dodds 25/1 and Gregory Campbell 25/1.

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