Agriculture minister sets out stall in video message to the DUP faithful
South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford has become the first DUP member to publicly announce his support for leadership candidate Edwin Poots.
In a social media post on Thursday evening, Mr Stalford said: “I shall be voting for my friend and colleague Edwin Poots to be the next leader of the Democratic Unionist Party. I believe he has the experience and talents to take our country and our party forward.”
Mr Stalford had been one of those suggested by some considering a potential leadership bid, with bookmakers placing him high on the list of likely candidates.
Yesterday Mr Poots spoke of his pride in his homeland as he announced he is to contest the DUP leadership battle.
The Agriculture Minister will be a candidate to replace Arlene Foster, who tendered her resignation as DUP leader and First Minister on Wednesday.
“I love this country and its people and I look forward to engaging with party colleagues in the days ahead,” he wrote on Twitter.
The Lagan Valley MLA also posted a video hailing the Northern Ireland centenary, which will be officially marked this weekend, as well as his reasons for running.
“I wish to see us rebuild, revitalise, reinvigorate and revive for the next one-hundred.”
Mr Poots also paid tribute to Mrs Foster, who was back at work yesterday as she co-chaired a meeting of the Executive. The outgoing Stormont leader will remain in post as First Minister until the end of June. Next month, however, she will relinquish her party leadership role.
Another senior figure tipped to throw his hat into the ring is Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. And last night there were unconfirmed reports that Gavin Robinson, who had been widely touted as a possible candidate, has opted not to stand in the race.
Just two months ago Mr Poots seemed to rule himself out of becoming DUP leader in the future.
He told this newspaper in March: “I didn’t have an interest before this, so nothing’s changed.
“If you were doing Arlene’s job, you’d never get peace... being the leader would be hugely stressful, hugely problematic and not particularly desirable.”
At the time he had returned to his ministerial post after undergoing a successful operation to treat kidney cancer, which was discovered by chance when he underwent surgery on a burst appendix before Christmas.
Identified as coming from the more hardline wing of the party, Mr Poots had made little secret of his political ambitions amid the recent rumblings of discontent against Mrs Foster.
Meanwhile, a source close to her yesterday recounted emotional scenes as she informed colleagues that she would be stepping down, shortly before the news was made public on Wednesday.
In one conversation, she was said to have been “in bits”.
The source told the Belfast Telegraph the swift nature of her downfall had left Mrs Foster shocked and upset. “She was in bits. She just didn’t see it coming,” they said.
“She said it was like walking up Royal Avenue and getting hit by a bus. She felt betrayed by friends, or people she considered friends.”
Northern Ireland is set to go to the polls next May, but there are concerns Mrs Foster’s departure could now see an election brought forward. There are also reports Sinn Fein could block the appointment of the new DUP leader as First Minister without guarantees around the Irish language and LGBT rights.
When asked yesterday Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy, said: “We’re not into playing games with all of this, the Executive is still in the middle of a pandemic.
“We’re not about playing games with nominations and other things, we’re about getting the things implemented that we agreed last year.”