Donaldson removes Frew as North’s economy minister

Paul Givan expected to remain as Northern Ireland’s First Minister until autumn at least

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (right) with Stormont’s new economy minister, Gordon Lyons. Photograph: DUP/PA Wire

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (right) with Stormont’s new economy minister, Gordon Lyons. Photograph: DUP/PA Wire

 

Paul Givan is expected to remain as Northern Ireland’s First Minister until at least the autumn following a minor reshuffle of the DUP’s ministerial team by the new party leader Jeffrey Donaldson.

Mr Donaldson appointed the East Antrim MLA Gordon Lyons as economy minister on Tuesday, replacing Paul Frew, a close ally of Edwin Poots who was one of the former DUP leader’s ministerial appointees.

Mr Givan remains as First Minister, as do the rest of the DUP’s ministers, including Mr Poots in the a griculture portfolio.

It is Mr Donaldson’s first change to the DUP’s ministerial lineup at the Northern Ireland Assembly since he was ratified as party leader last week.

He said he intended to conduct a “more fundamental reshuffle of posts in September” and had “taken the decision to make limited ministerial and post-holder changes at this time so as to minimise any impact personnel changes would have on the business of delivering for people across Northern Ireland.

“I am mindful that our Executive team, in conjunction with Ministers from other parties, has further significant work to do in the next short period,” Mr Donaldson said.

Asked on Tuesday if he had replaced Mr Frew because he had supported Mr Poots in the recent leadership contest, Mr Donaldson replied: “No, because I have retained Edwin as Minister for Agriculture, I have retained Paul Givan, who was a strong supporter of Edwin as the First Minister for the time being and I will continue to engage with colleagues over the summer period and make more substantive changes to my ministerial team and our Assembly team in the autumn.

‘More united approach’

“My objective is to bring the party together, I think that is already happening, to have a more united approach within the DUP because that is vital for good government in Northern Ireland.

“I will appoint the people that I believe are best suited to do the job in each department that we hold in the Executive,” Mr Donaldson said.

The new DUP leader, who is also the MP for Lagan Valley, has made clear he intends to return to the Assembly as an MLA and take up the position of First Minister.

In an interview with UTV’s The View from Stormont, Mr Donaldson said that “ideally” he wanted to do so “later this year”, but he intended to “spend the first few months engaging within my own party and reaching out across the community.”

Asked if he was “in no rush”, Mr Donaldson replied that he “would like to get back to Stormont as quickly as possible” but pointed out that he was “not a member of the Assembly so obviously I’ve got to find a way of getting back into the Assembly.

“At the moment, there isn’t a path for me. One may open up, it is certainly my intention to lead the party into the Assembly elections next May,” he said.

Mr Donaldson could be co-opted onto the Assembly if another MLA stands down, or if he put himself forward as a candidate in the Assembly elections, which must be held by May at the latest.

Following his ratification as party leader last week, Mr Donaldson said he wanted to the DUP to heal and to look towards the future following months of internal turmoil and battles over the leadership.

The former DUP leader and first minister Arlene Foster stood down in April after a majority of the party’s MLAs and MPs signed a letter of no confidence.

Her replacement Mr Poots - who narrowly beat Mr Donaldson in the party’s first ever leadership contest - was himself forced to resign after only three weeks following an internal revolt.

Mr Donaldson told UTV he took seriously his responsibility to “heal the wounds” and he had been having “quiet conversations with people, offering them reassurance, and I think in the appointments that I will make, in my approach to the management of the party, people will see both internally and externally that I am about building those bridges and bringing people together.”

Mr Lyons, is a former junior minister in the Northern Executive and was temporarily minister for agriculture when Mr Poots stood down earlier this year in order to undergo surgery.

Mr Donaldson said Mr Lyons was “well equipped to take on the role”, bringing with him “valuable experience” and would focus on “rebuilding and revitalising Northern Ireland’s economy as we emerge from the Covid pandemic.”