Former DUP leader Edwin Poots has opened up the possibility that he could facilitate his successor Jeffrey Donaldson taking a seat in the Lagan Valley constituency so that Mr Donaldson could assume the role of First Minister.
On Wednesday Lagan Valley MLA Mr Poots said he will “probably” run again in the constituency in the next Assembly elections scheduled for May but he also did not rule out the possibility that instead he would seek a seat in the House of Commons in the same constituency.
Mr Donaldson currently is the Lagan Valley MP but in order to become First Minister he must forsake Westminster and gain a seat in the Assembly to take on that role. Mr Poots now has raised the possibility that he could stand for the House of Commons rather than Stormont next May.
Earlier this week Mr Donaldson said he intended to run for the Assembly in the May elections in Lagan Valley, if an alternative seat does not become available before then.
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Such a scenario would pose a troublesome challenge for the DUP with three of the party's most high-profile politicians – Mr Poots, Mr Donaldson and current First Minister Paul Givan – having to battle it out in a constituency where it holds two seats.
Were Mr Poots to stand for Westminster that would make it considerably easier for Mr Donaldson and Mr Givan to take Assembly seats in Lagan Valley.
There has been speculation that Mr Donaldson might seek to be co-opted to another former DUP leader, Arlene Foster’s seat when she stands down in Fermanagh-South Tyrone. The current indications, however, are that he would prefer to stand in his own Lagan Valley constituency or one close by rather than move west to Fermanagh-South Tyrone.
Through the early summer Mr Poots was embroiled in inter-party rivalry that saw him ousting Arlene Foster as DUP leader and he in turn being defeated for the top party post by Mr Donaldson. In addition, earlier in the year he had to temporarily step aside from his agriculture Minister post so that he could be successfully treated for cancer.
On Wednesday Mr Poots told BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme that he would not speculate on his future but that he would “probably” stand again for the Assembly.
But he also indicated that he was sanguine about his political future while opening up the possibility he could run for the House of Commons instead. He suggested that a by-election for Lagan Valley could take place on the same day as the Assembly elections in May. This could assist in getting the DUP vote out.
“I was never a career politician, so politics has happened for me. I could live outside of politics, but at this moment in time it is not my intention to leave politics, it is my intention to continue,” said Mr Poots.
“I have had an experience this year which I didn’t anticipate. That was being told that I had cancer and going through surgery. I don’t know what is going to happen in the next year to any of us so I am not going to speculate on it,” he added.
“I have an intention that I will remain in politics at this stage, but things change, opportunities come along. One never knows what is going to happen in the future.”
Pressed about the possibility of running for the House of Commons he said, “I wouldn’t rule that out. I have always enjoyed being at Stormont, I have enjoyed being local. These are all things that we need to sit down, have conversations about going forward. I want to see the DUP doing well.”
“I have no preference, I’m very relaxed about it,” said Mr Poots, while adding, “I have been in politics since 1996 and I’ve had a pretty long career so I will take whatever challenges 2022 brings to me and face them head on.”