The Irish Times view on Edwin Poots’s resignation: the DUP’s costly civil war

The North badly needs both political stability and cohesive leadership – at the moment it has neither

Some of the DUP’s rivals, and allies of desposed party leader Arlene Foster, will react with glee to Edwin Poots’s shambolic exit. Photograph: Mark Marlow/PA Wire

Some of the DUP’s rivals, and allies of desposed party leader Arlene Foster, will react with glee to Edwin Poots’s shambolic exit. Photograph: Mark Marlow/PA Wire

 

A day that should have marked the restoration of institutional stability in Northern Ireland’s politics instead underlined the fragility of those institutions.

The nomination of Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill as first minister and deputy first minister, respectively, of the powersharing Executive was an important breakthrough that seemed to avert the imminent threat of a collapse in the Executive and Assembly due to the long-running dispute over language rights legislation. Under the deal, the British government said it would introduce Irish language legislation in Westminster in October if the Executive had not progressed it by the end of September.

That was enough for Sinn Féin, which has made the language law one of its chief policy targets and felt the deal would prevent unionist backsliding, and for new DUP leader Edwin Poots, who ardently wished to avoid a snap election. One reason for the DUP to avoid the electorate any time soon was that the party has been at war with itself since Poots replaced Arlene Foster as leader last month.

Those divisions were starkly underlined within hours of the overnight deal, when a number of senior party figures, including seven of its eight MPs, wrote to Poots expressing concern at the agreement and urging him to delay nominating a first minister. After a tense party meeting at Stormont, where colleagues openly disagreed with Poots’s plan, the leader promptly left and went ahead with the nomination process. With that, it seems, his fate was sealed. By the end of a remarkable day, Poots had announced his resignation after just 20 days as party leader.

Some of the DUP’s rivals, and allies of the deposed Foster, will react with glee to Poots’s shambolic exit. But the chaos in the DUP is not without wider costs. As Northern Ireland emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic and navigates the early period of the post-Brexit era, it badly needs both political stability and cohesive leadership. An ugly, protracted war in the largest unionist party makes both harder to achieve.

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