DUP tensions: Party voices from Arlene Foster’s constituency take contrasting views on leadership change to Edwin Poots

Two DUP voices from Fermanagh and South Tyrone have spoken out about the turmoil within the party in the wake of their local MLA and party leader, Arlene Foster, being publicly ousted.

Friday, 28th May 2021, 5:44 pm
Updated Friday, 28th May 2021, 7:05 pm

One, a key source in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone (FST) DUP Association said a Facebook post it put online last night which slammed the manner in which Mrs Foster was treated, was almost universally speaking for party members and voters in the constituency.

However another voice, former party Executive member Angela Robinson from Brookeborough, said that while she was “annoyed” at the way Mrs Foster was deposed, the party must now move on for the good of the country.

They both spoke to the News Letter after Paul Bell, a DUP member from Arlene Foster’s Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency, dramatically resigned from the party last night after Mr Poots’ ratification as the new leader. Mr Bell hit out at those who ousted Mrs Foster, and warned the party stands to lose thousands of votes at the next election.

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Edwin Poots and Arlene Foster

Mrs Foster announced her resignation as First Minister and DUP leader last month following an internal revolt against her leadership.

The FST DUP Association posted a statement on its Facebook page last night – shared by MP Gavin Robinson – which stated the treatment of Mrs Foster “was not done in our name” and pledged to “stand firm by her side”.

A key source in the FST DUP association told the News Letter today that a lot of supporters on the ground are “disgusted” at how Mrs Foster was treated.

He added: “People know that leaders come and go, but the manner in which it was done has hurt people more.

“People are seriously thinking of voting for another party or not voting at all. Everything is so very raw it is hard to tell how things will be by the time of the next election.

“Arlene has played a major part in the party in Fermanagh South Tyrone since 2004. We have had some of our best turn outs under her. She played a big role.”

Asked how Edwin Poots might best begin to heal divisions, he replied: “It would be best if he did not come to Fermanagh for a few weeks. There is definitely a job of work to do to convince people to vote for the DUP again.”

An apology might be a small step forward, but only a small one, he said. “The damage is done. An apology would not be enough but it could be a start.”

He was “very much surprised” at Edwin’s approach of dealing with Mrs Foster. “There were kinder ways of doing it, I think the term used was ‘brutal’. It was definitely a shock the way it happened.”

As for the possibility of further future resignations in the constituency, “you wouldn’t know what would happen” he added.

But Angela Robinson from Brookeborough, a DUP Executive member under Peter Robinson, said the party must look to the future.

She played no part in the leadership change and notes how much Mrs Foster was respected for the level of hard work she had put into the party.

But she volunteers that “politics is cruel” and at times individuals are indeed “out for power”.

“I would prefer an open book approach to these things” she says of the manner of the leadership change.

Yet she feels change had been coming for some time.

“It didn’t just happen yesterday, there has been a build up to it.

“I know Arlene and feel very sorry for her. I wish her the best for the future and have no animosity towards her. I am just annoyed at the way it has worked out for her.”

She would have preferred that Arlene had been allowed to resign in a similar manner to that of former UUP leader Steve Aiken.

“But as far as we know Edwin Poots was elected according to the party rules, and as a party I feel we have to move forward - for the good of the country first and then for the good of the party.”

She firmly believes the party has democratically elected its new leader.

Despite having held a range of offices at different levels in the party she is also keen to say she has “never felt undermined as a woman” in the DUP.

The DUP may lose some votes and may see some resignations in the constituency going forwards, she adds, “but not in a major way”.

“I think most people that I know now want to move on. There is no place for squabbling in a party.”

Omagh DUP Councillor Mark Buchannan affirmed that there was ill feeling in the FST DUP association at how Arlene had been ousted.

He believes she should have been told “professionally” about the formal opposition within the party which led to her resignation and that she had been “mistreated”.

Based in Omagh, he feels somewhat more insulated from feelings about matters in Fermanagh, even though he is in the same council grouping.

“Some people were feeling the need for a change in leadership, a new direction, even before the leadership tensions became public,” he said.

“Some people at grassroots level were becoming more concerned about the more liberal laws that were coming in, for example on abortion.

“They were beginning to feel that we needed to take a stronger stand. A lot of people that were voting for us were feeling that way.”

He said the same voters had also told him the party had “not taken a strong enough stand” about same sex marriage being introduced into NI, albeit he recognised this was done “over the heads” of NI elected representatives.

However despite concerns at the treatment of Mrs Foster, he accepts that Edwin Poots was fairly elected as the new party leader.

“We have to go forward with him,” he added.

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