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Peter Robinson urges caution ahead of DUP leadership contest


Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson

Former DUP leader and first minister, Peter Robinson, has cautioned his party against going too far in ditching those who have been central to the party for many years.

His comments come amid reports that some of the party’s MLAs and MPs want to see the removal of keys figures who have been central to Arlene Foster’s tenure as DUP leader, including chief executive Timothy Johnston, deputy leader Lord Dodds, head of communications John Robinson, and Mrs Foster’s special adviser Emma Little-Pengelly.

Writing in today’s News Letter, Mr Robinson said while that the DUP needed reform “it must not mean ditching everything and everyone who has developed the party into the leading political force it has become”.

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Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has already announced his intention to stand for the leadership of the DUP.

The widely anticipated move by Mr Poots comes 24 hours after Mrs Foster announced her intention to stand down as party leader and 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.

Mrs Foster is standing down as DUP leader on May 28 and as First Minister at the end of June.

She took over the party leadership from Peter Robinson in December 2015 and became First Minister a month later.

In his News letter column, Mr Robinson paid tribute to his successor, writing: “Perhaps before assessing what comes next, we might pause to thank Arlene for her service and many sacrifices. She will find out over the months to come, from regular decent people, that her contribution has been appreciated.

“Arlene had the misfortune of being pitched into the storm of a global pandemic which absorbed virtually all of her time and had to be prioritised over the delivery of her domestic agenda. The pressure of this period is unparalleled and has been immense for all ministers but especially for our first minister.

“Politics, like a river, does not cease to flow and the DUP will have to live and deal with the consequences of this decision. The procedures for electing a new leader re straight-forward and uncomplicated.”

Mr Robinson said it was an opportune time for a fresh leader to move forward with a refreshed plan.

“It should incorporate an examination of every aspect of functioning within the party organisation from its local structures to its central hub,” he added.

“It means undertaking difficult conversations with representatives about what the party expects from them in relation to the level and standard of service they provide, to the order and discipline required to provide an effective political machine that can deliver on its commitments.

“It must not mean ditching everything and everyone who has developed the party into the leading political force it has become.”

But he warned: “It is an awesome responsibility not just for a new leader but for all those who will make the choice of leader and the party’s policy direction. Make a bad choice or take the wrong course and the Union will be in peril and you will not be forgiven.”

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