Stormont’s Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said he has been “greatly encouraged” by the number of people who have come forward in support of his bid to become leader of the DUP.
Mr Poots’s comments come after a number of DUP politicians backed him for the party leadership in a series of videos posted on his account on Friday evening.
Paul Frew was announced as Mr Poots’s campaign manager while fellow MLAs Paul Givan, Christopher Stalford, Mervyn Storey and Jonathan Buckley all endorsed his candidacy, as did MP Paul Girvan.
Mr Poots, who is so far the only person to declare their intention to seek the DUP leadership, posted a video on Twitter on Friday discussing his bid.
He said: “Since announcing my bid to become leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, I’ve been so greatly encouraged by the numbers who have come forward in support of me.
“Colleagues in Westminster, in the Assembly, from Donaghadee to Donemana, and from Belfast to Londonderry and lots of places in between have been joining me with my vision for the people of Northern Ireland. There’s lots more to come.”
Mr Frew, North Antrim MLA, said he had known Mr Poots for a long time and he described him as a “good friend”.
In the video, he said: “That is why I was delighted when he asked me to be his campaign manager for the forthcoming leadership contest within the party.
“Edwin and I have had long conversations about the changing face of politics and the challenges that lie ahead.
“Edwin gets it when I talk about reform.
“That’s why I am backing Edwin Poots for leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.”
Mr Stalford, South Belfast MLA, said Mr Poots had shown “leadership and determination” as a minister.
“I have known Edwin Poots for more than 20 years and I’m proud to say he’s someone that always encouraged me and other young people a working-class background to get involved in politics,” Mr Stalford said.
“Throughout his time as a minister, particularly during the Covid crisis, Edwin has shown leadership and determination, not only to protect our lives during this health scare but also to protect our livelihoods.”
Mr Givan, Lagan Valley MLA, declared his support for Mr Poots saying he had known the minister for more than 20 years and he encouraged him to get involved in politics when he was only 16.
The former communities minister said: “I have been privileged to work with him as a councillor in the Assembly.
“And I’ve watched first hand how he’s dealt with many challenges, serving in four different ministerial departments and the most challenging in the Department of Health.
“When under pressure, I have seen how Edwin Poots has been able to deal with the problems and overcome them.
“I have also seen how Edwin can reach out to everybody in our community and has that real desire to build a shared society recognising everybody’s different identities, respecting diversity.”
Mr Storey, North Antrim MLA, said he has known Mr Poots all his political life.
“I believe he has the vision and the skills needed to lead the DUP,” Mr Storey said.
“As Northern Ireland faces into our next century, it is vision and leadership that we need to secure Northern Ireland’s future.”
Mr Buckley also announced his backing for Mr Poots, saying the minister had “supported and encouraged” him and many other young members in the unionist community to get involved in the political arena.
The Upper Bann MLA said: “Major issues lie ahead. Now is the time for unionists to find a figure that they can unite behind and face the challenges that lie ahead.”
Mr Girvan, MP for South Antrim, also endorsed Mr Poots.
“I’ve known Edwin a lifetime and I believe he has the skills, strength and determination to lead our great country and our party,” he said.
Mr Girvan is the first of the DUP’s eight Westminster representatives to declare support for Mr Poots.
The Agriculture Minister announced his intention to stand for the leadership of the party 24 hours after Arlene Foster announced her intention to stand down as party leader and Stormont First Minister.
The Lagan Valley Assembly member has been viewed as one of the main contenders to replace his departing leader, who was forced to quit in the face of an internal heave against her.