DUP leader ‘wants to see party heal’

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said he wants to see his party heal after the deep divisions that have caused chaos in the ranks in recent months.

He said he has reached out to Edwin Poots, and expressed regret over walking out of a meeting to ratify his leadership in May before he had made a speech.

Sir Jeffrey’s first official day as leader on Thursday started with a bruising statement from North Down MLA Alex Easton saying that he was resigning and claiming there was “no respect, discipline or decency” within the party.

Bitter divisions within the party have been laid bare after successive revolts deposed former leader Arlene Foster and then her successor, Mr Poots, who quit after just 21 days in the role.

Mr Poots’ demise came only weeks after he narrowly defeated Sir Jeffrey in the leadership contest to succeed Mrs Foster.

Democratic Unionist Party meet to ratify new leader
Lagan Valley MP, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson arrives for the DUP meeting to ratify Edwin Poots as the party’s new leader in May (Brian Lawless/PA)

“We’ve come through a very difficult and bruising time for the party, there is no doubt about that, I won’t shy about that, I won’t try and put a gloss on it,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.

“I think the things that have happened have not positioned our party well in the eyes of people who support us.”

He went on: “I should have waited and listened to Edwin’s speech, that would have been the right to do, and I apologised for not having done so.

“In the midst of the difficulties we’ve had, we’ve said and done things to each other that have been hurtful, and the first step in healing the wounds is to recognise that, acknowledge that and I have done that … the response since has been really positive.

“During the leadership contest previously, we had been on opposite sides within the party but we’re now one side, we’re now working to be a more unified party.”

He said he hopes to sit down with Mr Easton, and try to persuade him to come back.

Meanwhile, Sir Jeffrey reiterated his view that the Northern Ireland Protocol has created instability in the region and within the Stormont Assembly.

He said there should be no internal trade border within the UK.

He said he understands that the EU wants to protect its single market, but said there is no reason why goods cannot be monitored at their point of origin or point of arrival as opposed to at Northern Ireland’s ports.

“This (Protocol) has led to tension within Northern Ireland, we have seen that on our streets, and I think it does undermine the stability of the political institutions,” he said.

“I am totally committed to delivering good government for Northern Ireland through our devolved institutions … I want Stormont to work for everyone but I cannot ignore the elephant in the room and that is the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“The current instability created by the Northern Ireland Protocol, the uncertainty that it creates, the harm that it does to the very delicate constitutional balances at the heart of the agreements of course threatens the stability of all the political institutions, not just Stormont, the North/South Ministerial Council and the relationships on an east/west basis.”

He added: “If the Irish Government continues to cheerlead for a Protocol that harms our relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom; they need not expect it will be business as usual, there will be normality on a north/south basis.”

Sir Jeffrey said he is giving the UK Government time to come forward with proposals to address the issues he has raised.

“But if they don’t, I am very clear that the longer this drags on, the more harm is done to our economy and political stability in Northern Ireland, the more difficult it is to sustain normal political relationships whether they are north/south or otherwise,” he said.

“If unionist concerns are ignored on this Protocol, that is not conducive to the kind of stability we all crave to the kind of new Northern Ireland I want to build.”