Minister of Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland, Edwin Poots, has become the first person to announce his candidacy for leader of the Democratic Union Party (DUP).
After Arlene Foster announced that she would be stepping down from her DUP leadership position, Poots was the first to voice his intention to run for the position. Numerous reports pointed towards her departure after the party’s letter of no confidence in how she dealt with a recent motion banning “conversion therapy” in Northern Ireland as well as her approach to Brexit.
In a short video message on social media, released 24 hours after Foster’s announcement, Poots stated, “I’m putting my name forward for the leadership of the Democratic Unionist Party. I look forward to the engagement and the debate with colleagues and the wider public in this contest.”
Today, I announce my candidacy for leader of the Democratic Unionist Party. I love this country and its people and I look forward to engaging with party colleagues in the days ahead. pic.twitter.com/Qesd3GTCwR
— Edwin Poots MLA (@edwinpootsmla) April 29, 2021
Although many celebrated Foster’s announcement to step down, there are concerns that her departure presents an opportunity for the DUP to instate a leader that will be stricter in backing discriminatory policies. The former leader’s vote to abstain on a motion about banning conversion therapy in Northern Ireland reportedly infuriated the traditional Christian members of her party, already angered by her handling of Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Since Poots put forward his candidacy, south Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford publicly announced his support for the agriculture minister’s campaign. He wrote, “I shall be voting for my friend and colleague Edwin Poots to be the next leader of the Democratic Unionist Party. I believe he has the experience and talents to take our country and our party forward.”
While serving as health minister in 2012, Poots came under fire for strongly opposing GBMSM donating blood in Northern Ireland. Speaking to the BBC at the time, he said: “I think that people who engage in high risk sexual behaviour in general should be excluded from giving blood… And so someone who has sex with somebody in Africa or sex with prostitutes, I am very reluctant about those people being able to give blood.”
The following year, in 2013, the UK Supreme Court rejected an attempt by Poots to challenge an Appeal Court that allowed LGBTQ+ parents to adopt children in Northern Ireland. At the time, the director of LGBTQ+ group Rainbow Project, “Enough public money has been spent on this fool’s errand. The minister should focus his time on ensuring the best available homes for children in care in Northern Ireland.”
In response to Foster’s election as the new DUP leader in 2016, Edwin Poots claimed that he thought her most important job was as a “wife, mother and daughter.” After she stepped down, he announced his candidacy by stating, “I wish to thank Arlene Foster for her dedication and service to the Democratic Unionist Party over the last twenty years, especially the last five years as its leader. I wish her and her family well going forward.”
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