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'Safe pair of hands' Edwin Poots to stand in if Arlene Foster falls ill during coronavirus crisis

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Agriculture minister Edwin Poots

Agriculture minister Edwin Poots

Agriculture minister Edwin Poots

AGRICULTURE Minister Edwin Poots will stand in as first minister if Arlene Foster falls ill with coronavirus.

The move mirrors a similar 'designated survivor' proposal drawn up by the British government that may see Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab replace Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been diagnosed with Covid-19, if his condition deteriorates.

The DUP held two meetings in the past nine days to work out their own contingency plan if Mrs Foster takes sick.

A party spokesman confirmed that "an Executive minister" would take her place, but stopped short of saying who.

But Sunday Life understands it will be Mr Poots, with the agriculture minister and former health minister even impressing Sinn Fein with his performance during the Covid-19 crisis.

A DUP source said: "If Arlene falls ill Edwin Poots will stand in. He is the most experienced of the remaining Executive team and is regarded as a safe pair of hands."

A second DUP insider told Sunday Life they are doing everything to "protect" First Minister Foster (below), with face-to-face meetings between her and other senior party figures limited.

"There was a meeting last Monday, and one on March 20, at which the 'designated survivor' role was discussed," explained the source.

"Unfortunately it's an issue that needed to be resolved, although we are hopeful Arlene will not fall ill because of the amount of safeguarding measures we have put in around her."

Sinn Fein also has a stand-in plan in place should deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill come down with Covid-19.

A party spokesman said: "Sinn Fein has contingency plans in place."

These "plans" would likely see Executive Junior Minister Declan Kearney temporarily take on the Mid-Ulster MLA's brief until she recovers.

While both the DUP and Sinn Fein are putting on a united front as Northern Ireland battles Covid-19, the parties remain at loggerheads behind the scenes.

Sinn Fein is furious at what one senior figure described as the DUP's "slavish devotion" to PM Boris Johnson's virus strategy, which has been out of step with the rest of the world.

"The DUP won't admit it but they should have been approaching this crisis on an all-Ireland basis, and implementing measures to contain the virus in the north at the same time as the south," a source told Sunday Life.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds and Education Minister Peter Weir were singled out by Sinn Fein for particular criticism over their performance during the Covid-19 havoc.

A party insider added: "At least the DUP has made the right choice in identifying Edwin Poots as Arlene's stand-in if she falls ill. He is competent."

Belfast Telegraph