Out with the old guard: Edwin Poots sacks Arlene Foster’s other ministers
Twelve days after being confirmed as DUP leader, Edwin Poots has finally moved to demonstrate his authority by sacking every one of Arlene Foster’s ministers – except himself.
Peter Weir, Diane Dodds, and junior minister Gordon Lyons will be removed from office next week – along with Mrs Foster herself.
Mr Poots unveiled his new team during a series of announcements in the Great Hall at Stormont today.
Mrs Foster, who was ousted as DUP leader following an internal revolt against her, will be replaced as first minister at the start of next week, having threatened to quit immediately if ministers were put in place before then.
While Mr Poots’ choices for Economy and Education Ministers – Paul Frew and Michelle McIlveen – will take up their roles at that point, a renomination process involving Sinn Fein will have to be undertaken before Mr Givan assumes office.
When Mrs Foster resigns as First Minister, Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill is automatically removed from her post as well – as the joint office can only function if both positions are filled.
Both parties will then need to re-nominate their respective first and deputy first ministers within seven days.
If one of the parties declines to re-nominate, then a functioning Executive could not be formed and a snap election would become likely.
However, there is no indication that this is likely, with Mr Poots making clear that he will not seek to block an Irish language act as agreed in last year’s New Decade, New Approach deal.
Previous DUP leaders have all taken up the role of Stormont first minister themselves.
However, Mr Poots has broken with that tradition, explaining that he wants to concentrate his energies on rebuilding and reforming the DUP. He will remain as Stormont Agriculture minister.
Revealing Mr Givan as first minister designate, Mr Poots paid tribute to Mrs Foster, thanking her for the “excellent work” she had done.
Mr Givan said: “There is a huge responsibility that comes with this position, particularly in serving the people of Northern Ireland.”
Mr Poots also named Gary Middleton as junior minister.
Mr Frew replaces Diane Dodds as Economy Minister while Ms McIlveen replaces Peter Weir in the Education Department.
Mr Frew, a North Antrim MLA who served in the Royal Irish Regiment’s second battalion, has a keen interest in energy policy, an area which the RHI scandal exposed Stormont’s inadequacies, both at ministerial and civil service level.
Ms McIlveen rarely does interviews and has a correspondingly low public profile. However, the Strangford MLA is well-regarded within the party of which she is secretary and she has significant ministerial experience.
Some DUP members had expected that Mr Poots would have made his deputy, North Belfast MLA Paula Bradley, a minister – or at least junior minister – but she was instead only given a committee chairmanship.
DUP leader Mr Poots paid tribute to the ministers who have been replaced.
Mrs Foster’s last significant engagement as first minister is likely to be a meeting of the British-Irish Council meeting in her home constituency of Fermanagh on Friday.
Mr Poots’s new ministerial team was announced just hours after another member of the DUP’s ruling executive announced her resignation from the party.
Upper Bann association member Roberta McNally. In her resignation statement posted on social media, Ms McNally referred to scenes at a party executive meeting to ratify Mr Poots as leader last month.
“Having been at the meeting myself, I also witnessed senior members telling people to put their hands down to enable the vote to be open,” she said.
“It was clear that those of us who did put our hands up were being noted.
“The arrogance of some senior members at the meeting was mind-blowing.
“I personally, until now, have enjoyed my time in the DUP and it was a great privilege to be elected onto the executive.
“I am extremely sorry to say that I informed the Upper Bann chairman of my resignation.”
Foster’s allies express their public displeasure
As they were removed from their ministerial posts, two of Arlene Foster’s closest allies today expressed unhappiness at what was happening.
Outgoing education minister Peter Weir and economy minister Diane Dodds expressed concern for the future direction of the party in the post-Foster era.
Both ministers publicly criticised Mr Poots’s decisions on social media within minutes of them being announced.
Mr Weir, who has known Mrs Foster from university days and was one of most loyal MLAs, tweeted: “There are some great appointments but disappointed to leave education, and in the balance of appointments it is sad there is little sign of healing or reaching out.
“It has been a privilege to serve as Education Minister, and a joy to see the dedication of all involved in the education system from students, parents, principals, teachers, youth workers and all education staff.
“I have done my best for all over the last 16 months, and no doubt haven’t got everything right. Michelle will pick up the baton and will run with it.”
However, in a signal that he is not planning to join the exodus from the DUP, Mr Weir added: “I will continue to fight my corner for unionism from within the DUP and I urge others to do likewise”.
Mrs Dodds, who Mrs Foster parachuted into the Assembly when she lost her seat as an MEP last year and then immediately appointed a minister, expressed disappointment following the announcements.
In a tweet Mrs Dodds wished her successor well but went on: “It is regrettable however that the new team announced today does not match the rhetoric about healing and bringing the party together.”
She added: “Unionism can only grow if it is generous, inclusive and encourages as many pro-Union voters to the cause as possible. I will continue in my efforts to safeguard the Union and make Northern Ireland the best place to live, work and invest.”
Significantly, the tweets from Mr Weir and Mrs Dodds were retweeted by Mrs Foster and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.
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