Edwin Poots vows to strip power from unelected DUP officials and denounces how party has made policy ‘on the hoof’

Edwin Poots has set out ferocious criticism of how the DUP has operated over recent years and vowed to end the vast power of unelected party workers.

Monday, 10th May 2021, 12:35 pm
Updated Monday, 10th May 2021, 12:52 pm

Although banned from being interviewed or writing platform pieces for newspapers, Mr Poots has made his views clear in a five-page manifesto issued to DUP MLAs and MPs today.

However, the party’s gagging order on candidates means that neither Mr Poots nor his rival to succeed Arlene Foster, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, can be questioned by the media on what they are saying.

Mr Poots’ document is suffused with an argument for radical reform of how the party operates, stripping power from unlected party employees or spads and giving it to the party’s elected representatives.

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Minister Edwin Poots at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Writing in the forward to the manifesto, the Stormont minister said: “I am committed to real and meaningful reform that will put power and decision-making back into the hands of elected representatives.”

He said that “it is only through more democratic structures that we can renew unionism for the new century.

“It is clear that reform of our party is needed and my agenda for change has resonated with you. I welcome the debate I have helped to generate and the changes that will come.

“For too long change was talked about but never materialised.”I am determined to deliver the change that is needed by putting democracy at the core of our party.”

Edwin Poots Minister for Arts Culture and Leisure in his Stormont Office. Picture by Brian Little

There have been conflicting briefings from within Mr Poots’ camp as to whether he is planning to remove key figrues such as chief executive Timothy Johnston, top spin doctor John Robinson and Mrs Foster’s top spad, Emma Little Pengelly.

Mr Poots specifically promised a “reinvigorated press arm of the party focussing on both external and internal publication of party messaging”, alongside an “independent review of the organisation’s staffing model” to “deliver a modern fit for purpose political party”.

Mr Poots set out a series of proposed reforms, among which is the creation of a ‘senior leadership advisory panel’ which would include the leader, deputy leader, first minister and two members elected by DUP MLAs and one member elected by MPs.

The DUP leadership hopeful set out a new decentralised means of making appointments to public officers and government bodies, saying that the party leader as nominating officer would “no longer act unilaterally”.

He said that all appointments to internal party positions “will be based upon merit with a transparent and consultative process at its core”.

The party officer team will be annually elected, he said, with candidates requiring 50% of the vote from members of the party executive and there will be a ban on candidates being proposed by others “to avoid any attempt of [sic] influencing the outcome due to the status of the proposer.”

In large type, Mr Poots said that the party leader and deputy leader “shall be elected annually by the electoral college” – an apparent allusion to the fact that last year there was no such election and this year one MLA told the News Letter there was no plan for such a contest before Arlene Foster was ousted.

In his most explicit criticism of how the party is being run, Mr Poots said: “The need for a strategic body to deliver the leadership and policy ambitions of the party is obvious. We can no longer sustain the ad hoc approach that has been a feature of recent years with policy on the hoof and little regard to the wishes of elected members who have to believe in and defend the policies of the party.”

The policy body would be chaired jointly by the leader and deputy leader, he said, and would be “exclusively for elected members only”, although it “can be serviced by party officials as and when required”.


Sam McBride: Don’t assume Edwin Poots is more hardline than Sir Jeffrey Donaldson – the truth is more nuanced

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