Edwin Poots profile: New DUP leader is a traditionalist and Paisleyite

Pragmatic, experienced politician has proven himself capable of working with Sinn Féin

Edwin Poots has defeated his constituency colleague Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, by 19 votes to 17, to succeed Arlene Foster as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party. Video: Twitter@edwinpootsmla

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Edwin Poots was, quite literally, raised in the DUP.

After his election as leader on Friday, he reminded reporters that his father had been one of the party’s founder members; he joined the DUP as a teenager following the killing of the Ulster Unionist MP Robert Bradford in 1981.

He is also steeped in its religious elements, and is on the traditionalist, Paisleyite wing of the party. He is opposed to the decriminalisation of abortion in the North and has courted controversy over his views on homosexuality and evolution – he is a creationist who believes the Earth was created about 4,000 years ago.

As minister for health he tried to maintain a ban on gay men giving blood which had been lifted elsewhere in the UK, a ban later found by the high court to be “irrational”, and also opposed same-sex couples being allowed to adopt children.

Coup

Given his family connections, it was unsurprising, then, that Poots has long harboured a desire to lead the party, and was one of those rumoured to be moving against Arlene Foster long before she was deposed in last month’s coup.

In the video message announcing his candidacy on social media, the minister for agriculture said he was a “proud Northern Ireland man. I love this people and this place, and it faces many challenging times”.

Certainly he comes with plenty of experience; a DUP member throughout his political career, he has been an MLA for Lagan Valley since 1998 and held several ministerial portfolios, including culture, health and, currently, agriculture.

He is also a strong opponent of the Northern Ireland protocol and the Irish Sea border, and tried to prevent the construction of infrastructure for carrying out physical post-Brexit checks at the North’s ports in his capacity as minister.

His traditionalist credentials could play well among those who opposed the softer line taken by Foster, though the Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister has posited that his facilitation of the port checks could undermine this.

Yet as his eventual acceptance of the legal requirement to facilitate the checks demonstrates, he is also a pragmatist; as minister for health he reached a cross-Border agreement on children’s heart surgery which led to sick children from the North being treated in Dublin, and he has proven himself capable of working with Sinn Féin – something which will be required.

He began his political career as a member of Lisburn city council. In 1998, he elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly after the Belfast Agreement.

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