Cancer op to poll win: New DUP leader Poots has remarkable start to 2021

Cancer op to poll win: New DUP leader Poots has remarkable start to 2021

Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots, with a pony at Ashleigh Massey’s farm near Ballygowan (David Young/PA)

Just months after undergoing a major cancer operation, Edwin Poots has completed a remarkable political comeback by being elected the DUP’s new leader.

The Stormont Agriculture minister won over the party electorate with his “strength and experience to lead” strapline.

As part of his bid for the leadership, Mr Poots stressed that he would “reform our party” and “reinvigorate unionism”.

Mr Poots previously indicated he will nominate a colleague to serve as first minister and has vowed to end a party culture of policy-making “on the hoof”.

Mr Poots meets firefighters in Co Down (Rebecca Black/PA)

His pledge to make policy-making more participatory was included in a “manifesto for reform” that he circulated to the members of the DUP’s electoral college this week .

Mr Poots has vowed “real and meaningful” changes which he said will put decision-making back into the hands of elected representatives.

Among the proposals is the establishment of a strategic policy body to “deliver the leadership and policy ambitions of the party”.

Mr Poots has a long tradition in the party. His father, the late Charlie Poots, is attributed as one the founding members of the party alongside the late Ian Paisley senior in 1971.

His son followed in his footsteps, starting his political career on Lisburn City Council and he was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998.

Since then, Mr Poots has held four ministerial portfolios – culture, environment, health and he is currently agriculture minister.

His current job could be regarded as a comfortable fit for the Lisburn man who comes from a farming background, however the role became less so at times as the minister with responsibility for implementing the checks required under the Northern Ireland Protocol.

2021 has also been a challenging year for Mr Poots personally having received a diagnosis of kidney cancer, discovered by chance when he underwent surgery on a burst appendix before Christmas.

He briefly stepped aside from his ministerial portfolio in February but was back at his desk by early March following a successful operation.

Identified as coming from the more hardline/religious fundamentalist wing of the party, Mr Poots also has a reputation of enjoying good working relationships.

He raised chuckles in the Assembly chamber earlier this month in a fond tribute to Britain's Prince Philip when he told MLAs he empathised with how “attempts at humour could become gaffes”.

“The duke was known for his sharp mind, for his wittiness, and sometimes that got him into trouble so his quips could become gaffes … and as someone who does that occasionally myself, I can appreciate the quandary that he finds himself in, you want to engage with people and you want to lighten an atmosphere and sometimes it just doesn’t work right,” he told MLAs.

Amid the recent rumblings of discontent against outgoing DUP leader Arlene Foster, Mr Poots made little secret of his political ambitions and has long been seen by many as the leading contender to replace her.

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