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Sorry needn’t be hardest word: DUP’s Donaldson apologises for Poots walkout and party’s gay rights record

New DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has apologised to Edwin Poots for walking out of a party meeting ahead of the former leader’s maiden speech.

The MP said figures in the party “have said and done things to each other that have been hurtful” over recent months, saying it was his job to start “healing the wounds.”

On his snub of Mr Poots speech, he admitted he should have stayed and listened.

Edwin Poots was forced to resign over his deal with the government to bring about Irish language laws so he could nominate Paul Givan as first minister. 

Mr Donaldson also said it is “right to apologise” over comments made in the past about the LGBT community, echoing remarks made by his deputy leader Paula Bradley at a Pink News event on Thursday.

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The Lagan Valley MP was one of a number of high-profile party figures who staged a walk out of the first speech made by Edwin Poots at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in May, setting off the turmoil in the former leader’s ill-fated reign.

“I have spoken to Edwin about that,” Sir Jeffrey told BBC’s Good Morning Ulster.

“I have spoken to our party officers about that and I have spoken to our party executive on Wednesday evening about that.

“As the candidate in the first leadership contest who had lost narrowly to Edwin I should have waited and listened to Edwin’s speech. That would have been the right thing to do and I apologised for not having done so.

“We have said and done things to each other that have been hurtful and the starting point in healing the wounds is to recognise that. The response since has been really positive.”

Sir Jeffrey also rejected claims the party had not fully endorsed him, after he received 32 out of 36 possible votes from the party’s electoral college at his election last week.

"Please show me a party leader anywhere in this country that has the full support of everyone in their party,” he added.

"At our party executive on Wednesday evening, there wasn’t any dissent. It was unanimous. My task is to win the confidence of those who may not have had that confidence at this stage.”

The new leader was also asked to comment in response to remarks made by deputy leader Paula Bradley at a Pinks News Virtual Belfast reception on Thursday evening.

Ms Bradley, who is considered one of the most liberal DUP members on gay rights and abortion issues, described past comments around same-sex relationships by some in the party as “absolutely atrocious”.

“I certainly couldn’t stand by many of those comments, in fact all of those comments, because I know the hurt that they caused people and I know that fed into the hatred that some people have had to endure in their life and I think that’s absolutely wrong,” she said.

“I think that the vast majority of people who have made those comments are no longer there and the ones that are there have said they have learned their lessons, that their language at times has not been right.

“It’s something that I have brought up on numerous occasions in my own party… because the language that we use as elected representatives has an impact in wider society.”

While Sir Jeffrey Donaldson did not reference specific comments made in the past, he said there had been occasions when people had said hurtful things to DUP members in the past.

“There is no doubt that in the past things have been said that should not have been said,” he added.

“I think it is right to apologise when we have said things that have been hurtful to others.

“Sorry needn't be the hardest word.”

On the NI Protocol he also refused to answer question on if a trade border should be placed between Northern Ireland and the Republic, saying there should be technological solutions to avoiding having a border in the Irish sea. 

And asked if there was a difference between his party and the UUP, he said they would differ on economic issues.

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