Sir Jeffrey Donaldson promises shake-up of DUP party rules as he makes leadership pitch

A shake-up of DUP party rules and more inclusive decision making on policies are among reforms that have been outlined by leadership contender Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

Sunday, 9th May 2021, 11:44 am
Updated Sunday, 9th May 2021, 11:51 am
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP pictured in his office in Lisburn, Co Antrim. Photo by Kelvin Boyes

Sir Jeffrey also pledged to consult on the potential of having two deputy leaders going forward – one based at Stormont and the other at Westminster.

He said, if elected on Friday, he will embark on a “listening tour” of Northern Ireland during the summer to enable the party to reconnect with members and voters.

The measures are contained in one of two documents the Lagan Valley MP circulated to the party’s electoral college on Saturday as he made a pitch for their support.

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The first document – titled “re-engage, reform and recruit” – outlines his plans for internal change within the DUP while the second sets out the qualities and experience he believes make him best placed to take the job.

Both documents were sent to the MLAs and MPs who will decide who succeeds Arlene Foster.

It is understood Sir Jeffrey will circulate a further document to party colleagues outlining his wider policy plans this week.

In the document setting out his plans for DUP reform, the MP said he had reflected on conversations with party colleagues and had developed proposals to “deliver the internal change we all want to see”.

Sir Jeffrey committed to a “listening tour” across all Northern Ireland’s 18 constituencies during the summer to “reconnect with members and communities on the ground”.

“Our party needs to return to its roots as a campaigning party, at community, local, regional and national level,” he wrote.

He said he will develop a proactive communications strategy to build the party base and connect with “core concerns of voters”.

In terms of reform, Sir Jeffrey outlined what he will do in his first 100 days as leader.

That includes setting up, in the first week, a New Century Party Panel that will include the chairman, leader, deputy leader, three MLAs, two MPs, two council group leaders and two grassroots members.

He said the panel would produce an agreed reform plan within 12 weeks.

Sir Jeffrey said the reforms would focus on:

– Engagement as a core value

– Modernising and increasing the party’s communications capabilities, particularly on social media

– Maximising support for representatives at all levels of the party

– Redefining the relationship of elected representatives to staff

– Development programmes for those seeking internal and public offices

Sir Jeffrey also pledged to consult on a revision of party rules, which would be implemented by the end of the year. He said this would address “areas of particular frustration” amongst members, such as “discipline”.

He raised the possibility of rule changes allowing for two deputy leaders in the future – one from the Westminster team and one from the Assembly team – and said potential changes to rules for leadership contests would also be consulted on.

In regard to recruitment, Sir Jeffrey said the DUP had failed to fully tap into the goodwill and interest there was in the party.

“In the first two weeks, I will launch a recruitment campaign and fundraising drive to ensure we have more resources and the breadth and depth of members and activists to deliver and communicate the strong, united and focused vision I and the party will offer,” he wrote.

In conclusion, Sir Jeffrey told party colleagues: “By re-engaging, by reforming and by recruiting, we will drive forward the programme of change, engagement and listening that have been the themes of my discussions with you. This will start to build a party fit for purpose and ready to lead Northern Ireland forward to a new century.”

The document setting out Sir Jeffrey’s career experience is titled “A record of service and preparation to lead”.

It offers recollections of his Ulster Presbyterian upbringing in Co Down and recalls painful experiences of the Troubles when family members and friends were murdered by the IRA.

Sir Jeffrey speaks about his time in the Ulster Defence Regiment and charts the development of his early political career.

“The destruction and loss of life experienced by so many spurred me on to see the defeat of terrorism and help build a Northern Ireland at peace,” he wrote.

He talks about the “crucial political choice” he faced when, as a UUP MP, he refused to endorse the Good Friday Agreement.

Sir Jeffrey also discusses his achievements as a DUP MLA and MP, outlining the various position he has held and his involvement in political negotiations.

Earlier in the week, Mr Poots sent a four-page leadership manifesto to party colleagues.

He also focused heavily on an internal programme of reform within the party.

On policy issues, Mr Poots vowed to establish a unionist convention and think tank to maximise support for the pro-Union position and said he would lead a campaign against Brexit’s “undemocratic” Northern Ireland Protocol.