DUP leader Arlene Foster said she does not see any “credible evidence” that there will be a change of leadership in her party following the findings of a Belfast Telegraph poll.
he LucidTalk poll indicated that Michelle O’Nell could be the next First Minister, after the DUP’s support fell to 19% - the lowest in two decades.
Sinn Fein were out in front on 24%, while one in 10 respondents said they would vote for Jim Allister’s TUV.
In party leaders’ ratings, both First Minister Mrs Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill polled poorly with less than one in four people saying they were doing a good or great job and more than half describing their performance as bad or awful.
Speaking on View From Stormont on Monday, Mrs Foster stressed that she had spoken to her DUP colleagues over the weekend regarding a leadership change and said there was no “credible evidence”.
“This is never about Arlene Foster, it’s about the DUP and it’s about leading the country to a better place and that’s what I’m focusing on,” she stated.
Commenting on the possibility that Sinn Fein’s northern leader Ms O’Neill could be the next First Minister after the 2022 Assembly elections, Mrs Foster said “there is always that potential”.
“Of course, there’s always that potential but the poll that matters is the election and we look forward to the next election - going out to talk to our people about what we’ve been able to do for the people of Northern Ireland and our vision for Northern Ireland beyond 2021,” she continued.
Mr Allister’s TUV was the biggest winner in the Belfast Telegraph’s online poll of 2,295 people.
Support for his party quadrupled since the last Assembly elections. On 10%, it could win up to six seats if the pattern was replicated in the May 2022 election but Mrs Foster said it was her job to win the trust of the people.
“It’s not the first time we’ve seen those sorts of movements, especially when unionism is in a tough place,” she stated.
“But it’s now my job and the job of the Democratic Unionist Party to make sure that we deal with all of the issues that are there and make sure we win the trust of the people when the real poll comes and that of course is next year during the election.”
She added that she recognised that the Belfast Telegraph’s poll was an internet poll and it was “important to put that into perspective”.
“But people are angry in relation to what’s happening in Northern Ireland,” she added. “Unionists are very angry about the protocol.
“I absolutely recognise that and therefore there is a need to deal with that and to deal with it in a meaningful way.”
Meanwhile, the Alliance Party was breathing down the neck to become Northern Ireland’s second largest political party with an 18% support rating.
The SDLP (13%) and the Ulster Unionist Party (12%) both remained unchanged as Colum Eastwood and Steve Aiken were unable to capitalise despite extensive criticism of how Stormont’s big two have handled the Covid-19 pandemic.