Daniel McConnell: After just 21 days, Poots departs in disgrace

This latest round of internal wrangling places the entire future of the Northern Assembly in jeopardy, writes Political Editor Daniel McConnell.
Daniel McConnell: After just 21 days, Poots departs in disgrace

In the shadow of Carson’s statue, DUP leader Edwin Poots.

It has been said before that a leader without any followers is simply a man going for a walk.

The dramatic resignation of Edwin Poots, the newly installed leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, came after a day of heavy recrimination at Stormont.

He was only in his position for three weeks.

Having ousted Arlene Foster, Poots himself fell on his sword after a bitter and swift mutiny.

Senior DUP figures gathered at party headquarters in Belfast amid speculation Mr Poots was facing a vote of no confidence.

The DUP disarray came after a significant majority of its elected representatives earlier opposed Mr Poots’ decision to nominate a Stormont First Minister.

This followed on from the earlier-than-expected resolution to the standoff with Sinn Féin over the passage of the Irish Language Act, a piece of legislation the DUP has persistently blocked despite agreeing to implement it 18 months ago.

The post-midnight announcement by the British and Irish Governments, committing to pass the stalled laws at Westminster in the autumn if they were not moved at the Stormont Assembly in the interim, was enough to convince Sinn Féin to drop its threat not to nominate a Deputy First Minister as joint head of the devolved Executive.

But the internal opposition, while incredibly frustrating, is not unsurprising.

Edwin Poots leaves the DUP headquarters in Belfast after he said he will stand down as the party leader. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Edwin Poots leaves the DUP headquarters in Belfast after he said he will stand down as the party leader. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

The DUP has been tearing itself apart, and the political execution of Arlene Foster and transition to Poots was never likely to be a smooth one, but this latest round of internal wrangling places the entire future of the Northern Assembly in jeopardy.

Put simply, just as with the Boris Johnson government, how can any institution continue if agreements like the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ document, signed in good faith and backed by Dublin and London, are reneged upon and blocked by one of the key signatories?

While the day began on an optimistic note, given the deal which saw London guarantee the passage of the Irish Language Act by October should the Assembly fail to pass it on its own, it was apparent from mid-morning that there would be trouble. 

While the DUP senior figures met to confront Poots over their unhappiness with the situation, Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill were duly installed as First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

However, just minutes before they took their office, a majority of DUP MLAs voted against Poots' decision to reconstitute the power-sharing Executive with Sinn Féin.

Edwin Poots leaving DUP headquarters. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Edwin Poots leaving DUP headquarters. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Poots' resignation now risks collapsing the Assembly, and once again plunging the North back into a state of direct rule.

From a Sinn Féin perspective, the commitment by London to guarantee the passage of the Irish Language Act could be a pyrrhic victory for nationalists, as there is still no guarantee of it coming into force even if Westminster legislates for it.

Look at the laws on abortion and same-sex marriage — passed by London, but still not in effect because of the DUP’s refusal to allow it.

After just 21 days, Poots now departs in disgrace and the DUP soap opera moves on to another chapter.

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