Edwin Poots: ‘Christopher Stalford’s family asked me to take his seat ... it was hard to refuse’

The family of the late DUP MLA Christopher Stalford asked Edwin Poots to take over his South Belfast seat.

Mr Poots confirmed today that the Stalford family had requested that he stand for the DUP in the south of the city in the forthcoming Assembly elections.

Speaking outside Mr Stalford’s constituency office in Sandy Row he said: “I stand here with a lot of regret as I have lost a good friend and colleague. I am standing here out of necessity more than anything else.

“Last week his family spoke to me and asked me if I would consider taking on the role of MLA in South Belfast. And it was on that basis that the party asked me to take on this responsibility.

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th March 2022 DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and party colleague Edwin Poots hold a press conference outside the late Christopher Stalford's constituency office on Sandy Row, south Belfast. Edwin Poots is to be co-opted into he party's seat for the area after the recent passing of Christopher Stalford. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

“It is a hard act to follow a local representative with such good standing in this community and who had a lot of respect in this community.”

Mr Poots said he hoped that “it would be some degree of comfort to the family that someone who has the same values as Christopher is representing his constituency”.

He said he also had a “degree of regret” on leaving his Lagan Valley constituency which he pointed out members of the Poots family have served in assemblies and councils for 50 years.

“But sometimes you have to make these decisions and they are hard decisions,” Mr Poots said.

Asked if South Belfast was his “third choice” constituency after failing to get nominated as the DUP candidate in South Down and leaving his Lagan Valley base, Mr Poots said: “In terms of leaving Lagan Valley as I went through the constituency on Saturday evening I passed by houses where I had actually helped people. I did feel it and it was certainly challenging.

“I am standing here today because Christopher Stalford’s family asked me to do this. I had the highest regard for Christopher and given the circumstances it was difficult to refuse.”

On south Belfast Mr Poots said: “It is not an area I am a stranger to. I have canvassed this area many times before. I worked in this area before.

“There has always been a strong connection between Lagan Valley and south Belfast in that lots of people from south Belfast, particularly from working-class areas like Sandy Row moved to estates like Seymour Hill and Lisburn. They still have lots of family down here. So people know a fair bit about me and I know about the people of south Belfast. “

He was flanked outside the DUP office by his party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson who confirmed the DUP would have to select someone in Lagan Valley who could take over Mr Poots’ seat until the elections in May.

The DUP leader confirmed he is on the party’s list of candidates for the Lagan Valley constituency, which he currently represents as an MP in the House of Commons.

“I think standing for election is an indication of serious intent and that is what I intend to do but I don’t want to pre-empt the next stage of the process which is to select a replacement for Edwin,” he said.

Sir Jeffrey attempted to project an image of unity with the man he replaced as DUP leader in its second party leadership election last year.

“Edwin has respected the wishes of the family and I commend him for doing so. It’s always difficult to move from one constituency to another.

“As a public representative I understand that but I am confident that we will go forward as a united team into the Assembly elections, that we will have a strong field of candidates across Northern Ireland. We are fielding candidates in every one of the 18 constituencies and we are out to win this election.”

He praised Mr Poots’ record in Lagan Valley “for all the work that he has done in Lagan Valley”.

Sir Jeffrey said: “Edwin and I started out as adversaries back in the early days of our careers as we contested Lagan Valley in general elections. Even then Edwin was someone I had the highest of respect for as a hard-working, diligent constituency representative.

“As MP and MLA we have had a good relationship and we will miss Edwin in Lagan Valley.”

Mr Poots led the DUP for 21 days after being elected in May 2021 as party leader following the overthrow of Arlene Foster in a rancorous internal coup.

Mr Poots narrowly defeated Sir Jeffrey in the DUP’s first-ever leadership contest.

The agriculture minister, however, resigned just under a month later and Sir Jeffrey replaced him as party leader.

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