Belfast Telegraph

DUP back Dodds and Foster as DUP leader and First Minister

By Liam Clarke

Nigel Dodds and Arlene Foster are the dream team to lead the DUP into the future, a poll of party members suggests.

The pair got almost unanimous support among delegates interviewed by this newspaper.

Mr Dodds received 86% backing to lead the party overall, while Mrs Foster got an overwhelming 98% to succeed Peter Robinson as First Minister.

Our snap survey provides the clearest indication yet as to who will take over Northern Ireland's dominant political party.

It is likely the leadership will be split this time, with Mr Dodds or another MP as overall leader in Westminster, and Mrs Foster probably as First Minister.

Mr Robinson said he expects party officers to pick an overall leader after Christmas.

That leader will then become the DUP's nominating officer for Stormont and pick the ministers, including the First Minister.

The only other person who got votes was Simon Hamilton, the Health Minister, who received 2% backing to become First Minister.

Several delegates told the people conducting the survey that, at 38, it was a bit soon yet for Mr Hamilton - but they would support him as leader in the future.

There were no signs of unionist unity, with particular ire reserved for the Ulster Unionists and other smaller unionist parties in speeches by Mr Robinson, Mr Dodds and Mrs Foster. Previously, many in the DUP felt it would be difficult to stay in government with Sinn Fein if other parties, especially other unionists, walked out.

The UUP have already quit in protest at alleged IRA links to the murder of Kevin McGuigan and IRA input to Sinn Fein strategy.

Allegations about continuing Sinn Fein and IRA links were made in two reports by the Chief Constable and the British Government. The latter said the IRA Army Council still existed.

That led DUP ministers to withdraw from Stormont on a rolling basis, claiming this was an unwelcome development so long after the ceasefire of 1994.

However, our survey shows huge support for staying in government with Sinn Fein.

Some 98% of delegates said the DUP could remain alongside Sinn Fein even if the other Executive parties went into opposition. Only 2%, a single delegate, disagreed.

Asked if they were personally surprised by the continued existence of the IRA's ruling council, 96% of delegates said no, with just 4% indicating they were surprised.

Members were also questioned on whether Bible teaching should always be reflected in legislation on issues of sexual morality.

These were defined as abortion, homosexuality and adultery.

Just over half - 52% - felt Biblical teaching should be imposed by law.

The survey also threw up some unusual findings. Besides Mr Dodds, five other candidates got some support to be party leader. Sammy Wilson got 4%, Mrs Foster and Mr Hamilton were backed by 2% of members, while Gregory Campbell received 2% of votes.

A dark horse not factored in by the bookies or pundits also got a mention.

He is Robert Adair who, at 28, is the youngest councillor on Ards and North Down council.

The Portavogie man, who was elected last year, joked that some of his friends had done it out of fun. A party source said: "Robert is very active on the internet and well known in our Young Democrats youth branch. He is clearly a man to watch out for."

  • The Belfast Telegraph interviewed 50 party members at random out of about 600 attendees. Interviews were mainly carried out on Friday afternoon and they were completed on Saturday morning.

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