The DUP has announced it will meet to elect a new leader next Friday. In a statement, chairman Lord Morrow said party officers have agreed the contest to elect a leader and deputy leader will be held on Friday 14 May. Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots and Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson have so far declared they intend to run to replace outgoing leader Arlene Foster.
Former North Belfast MP Lord Dodds is the current deputy leader of the party. Nominations for both roles will close on Thursday 6 May. Lord Morrow said only party members who are also Assembly members or MPs will be eligible to vote in the contests. He said the meeting will be conducted virtually due to the ongoing restrictions on gatherings under the coronavirus regulations. "Each nominated candidate for leader of the party will be given 10 minutes to speak to the online meeting and each candidate for deputy leader will be given five minutes to speak," he said. "Following this online meeting a voting station will open and voting will be by secret ballot." The winners are to be announced at 5pm on 14 May.Meanwhile, Nigel Dodds has confirmed that he will step down as DUP deputy leader after the next election.
The former MP for North Belfast was elevated to the House of Lords after losing his seat at the 2019 election, and will continue in the role. In a statement late on Tuesday night, he said: "Following my appointment to the House of Lords I decided that I would be stepping back from my party role whenever the next internal election cycle occurred. "Since, under the party rules, Peers are not even part of the party's electoral college for leadership positions, it would be incongruous and inappropriate to do otherwise. "However I will continue to use my position in Parliament to advance the cause of the Union and to articulate the views of unionists on the future direction of the United Kingdom and on issues affecting Northern Ireland more generally." Earlier on Tuesday, tributes were paid to Mrs Foster across the Assembly chamber. The outgoing DUP leader and First Minister attended Stormont as deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill took her turn answering questions from MLAs on behalf of the Executive Office. Ms O'Neill joined the tributes, saying she wanted to wish Mrs Foster "all the very best for the future", but also delivered a message to whoever will replace her as First Minister. "I also want to say that my determination is to work closely with the incoming minister, they should be in no doubt of my determination to ensure the delivery of the outstanding commitments, particularly where citizens' rights are yet to be delivered in respect of language and culture, legacy and women's health care," she told MLAs.
The DUP leader resigned last week after an internal revolt against her leadership. The move came in the form of a letter of no confidence signed by a majority of the party's senior elected representatives. Mrs Foster will step down as DUP leader on May 28, and as Stormont First Minister at the end of June.UTV Political Editor Tracey Magee analyses the leadership content:
In the Assembly on Tuesday, SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole said he wanted to acknowledge it was the first time MLAs had been in the chamber since Mrs Foster's resignation. "While she and I don't agree on very much, perhaps we agree on a degree of frustration at times with the Democratic Unionist Party, but we'll leave it at that," he told MLAs. "Can I wish her and her family all the best as we move on." Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said he wanted to wish all the best for the First Minister in the future. "We might have had our differences but we wish you all the best for the future," he said. Alliance MLA John Blair said he wanted to wish Mrs Foster all the very best on behalf of his party colleagues. "I first met the First Minister when she was doing her duty in my constituency, South Antrim, when I was a local councillor. I saw her dedication to that duty on that occasion and since, and we thank her for that," he said.
Sinn Fein MLA Orlaithi Flynn said she wanted to send her very best wishes to the First Minister.