Sir Jeffrey Donaldson resigns as Democratic Unionist party leader

by 24britishtvMarch 29, 2024, 2 p.m. 18
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Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has resigned as leader of the Democratic Unionist party after being charged over “allegations of a historical nature”, throwing Northern Ireland politics into turmoil.

“The party chairman has received a letter from Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP confirming that he has been charged with allegations of an historical nature and indicating that he is stepping down as leader of the Democratic Unionist party with immediate effect,” a party statement said on Friday.

“In accordance with the party rules, the party officers have suspended Mr Donaldson from membership, pending the outcome of a judicial process.”

The announcement stunned Northern Ireland and will jolt the British and Irish governments. Earlier on Friday Donaldson deleted his X, Instagram and LinkedIn accounts.

Senior DUP figures called an emergency meeting and appointed the party’s deputy leader and East Belfast MP, Gavin Robinson, as interim leader.

Donaldson had served three years as DUP leader and recently bolstered his authority by agreeing a deal with Downing Street that revived the Stormont executive and assembly. The Lagan Valley MP, 61, had been expected to lead his party into the general election.

As a Westminster MP Donaldson holds no post in the Northern Ireland executive, which is led by Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill as first minister and the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly as deputy first minister.

Donaldson has a reputation as a unionist hardliner and a soft-spoken pragmatist, which has earned grudging respect in London, Dublin and Washington. Born into a Presbyterian family in the County Down fishing village of Kilkeel, he served in the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) and became a full-time political activist from the age of 18.

In the 1980s he ran the constituency office of Enoch Powell, the former Conservative MP who had defected to the Ulster Unionist party (UUP), and then worked for the then UUP leader, James Molyneaux.

In 1997 Donaldson, a married father of two and socially conservative Orange Order member, inherited Molyneaux’s seat in Lagan Valley, just outside Belfast, and had held it since. He opposed the 1998 Good Friday agreement, seeing it as a sellout to the IRA, and in 2003 joined the DUP.

Polished media performances softened Donaldson’s image and he supported the DUP’s eventual acceptance of the Good Friday agreement. He also backed the party’s support for Brexit.

Controversy about trading arrangements between Northern Ireland and Great Britain fractured the party and toppled two leaders, Arlene Foster and Edwin Poots, in 2021, leaving Donaldson to step into the vacuum.

He withdrew the DUP from power sharing in 2022, collapsing Stormont. Critics accused him of destabilising Northern Ireland but the move rallied the party’s base and persuaded London to soften the Irish Sea border, triggering Stormont’s revival in February.

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