Political opponents have lined up to congratulate new DUP leader Edwin Poots, but have warned him of the challenges that lie ahead.
The new DUP leader vowed to reach out to other unionists as he was declared the winner of the first leadership contest in the party’s history.
Outgoing Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken, who announced his own resignation last Saturday, wished Mr Poots well, but said his “fingerprints are all over the Northern Ireland Protocol”.
As Agriculture Minister, Mr Poots’ department is responsible for building border control posts at which checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain take place as part of the protocol, which is opposed by unionists in Northern Ireland.
Mr Aiken said: “I would wish to extend our congratulations to Edwin Poots on being elected DUP leader and to Paula Bradley as deputy leader.
“Edwin may try to signal his election as a new era for the DUP following Arlene Foster’s resignation, but no matter what way you look at it, his fingerprints are all over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“If the new DUP leader wishes to present the image of a ‘new’ approach, he owes us all an explanation as to how his party’s squandering of their transient period of influence has resulted in the damaging position we now find ourselves in.
“Regrettably, the so-called stewardship of the Union in the DUP’s hands has been an abject failure – not just for Unionism but for all the people of Northern Ireland.”
TUV leader Jim Allister struck a similar tone.
He said: “My key concern is that unionism, whatever the personalities, gets and remains wholly focused on the defeat of the union-dismantling NI Protocol.
“Neither spin nor bluster will do it. Rather, determined political actions whereby the protocol is no longer implemented but rendered unworkable is the only hope.”
Other parties stressed the need for the new DUP leader to reach out beyond unionism.
Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy told the BBC: “To be quite honest I had no particular preference for either candidate for the leadership.
“We have been suffering in the Executive from internal instability within the DUP who are one of the leading partners in government here, and I hope that settles down and we can get back to doing what the Executive have committed to do and that is see our way through the pandemic, deal with all of the challenges we have around economic downturn, the challenges that Brexit will throw at us and all of the commitments we made in going back into government.
“I wish Edwin well, I have worked with him for a long number of years and I want to see him come back and work with the other four parties in the Executive.”
Alliance Party North Down MP Stephen Farry told the BBC: “Congratulations to Edwin and also to Paula. I have known Edwin for quite some time and served with him as a minister. I have always found him personable and at times he can be pragmatic.
“But it struck me whenever he said about the priority of reaching out to unionism, I think that sets the wrong tone, it is important that he reaches out across the whole spectrum.”
Alliance Party leader and Justice Minister Naomi Long tweeted: “Congratulations to @edwinpootsmla and Paula Bradley as they assume the leadership of @duponline.
“We have huge challenges ahead as an Executive and our success will depend on our willingness to work together for the common good.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood tweeted: “Congratulations @edwinpootsmla. Time now for everyone to recommit to working together.”