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Edwin Poots expected to talk to party before undertaking ‘clean sweep’ of Stormont’s top jobs

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DUP DESIGNATE leader Edwin Poots is expected to talk to party members before naming his new Stormont ministerial team.

The Lagan Valley MLA, who on Friday narrowly defeated Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to become the fourth DUP leader in the party’s 50-year history, is widely expected to initiate a reshuffle that will see Education Minister Peter Weir and Economy Minister Diane Dodds demoted.

But in keeping with the agriculture minister’s campaign pledge to make the DUP more democratic, the appointment of replacement ministers is not expected to happen immediately.

Mr Poots, who has said that he will be breaking with previous practice by not taking the first minister’s post, is also expected to consult with members before naming his preferred candidate for the executive’s top shared post, with his leadership campaign allies Paul Frew, Mervyn Storey and Paul Givan emerging as the frontrunners. New deputy leader Paula Bradley, regarded as comparatively liberal on social issues, has also been linked with the first minister’s role, her potential appointment being seen as a way of uniting the party after a divisive leadership contest.

Mr Poots’ predecessor Arlene Foster has said she will remain party leader until the end of next week and first minister until the end of June. However, it is thought the new leader is keen to oversee a swift changing of the guard, which could see Mrs Foster pushed out of the first minister’s post earlier than she’d like.

The new leadership team is also expected to begin a clear out of Stormont backroom staff this week, with a number of special advisers likely to move on.

Among those spads who were last night facing an uncertain future are former South Belfast MP Emma Little-Pengelly and Lee Reynolds, a former Belfast councillor and the regional chair of the Leave campaign in 2016. Mrs Dodds’ spad and former MLA Alastair Ross and his counterpart in education Peter Martin, both regarded as Foster loyalists, may also be seeking new roles.

Tipped to join the newly-appointed backroom staff is Andrew Gowan, who currently works for Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart.

South Down MLA Jim Wells, a supporter of Mr Poots who after three years out in the cold will have the whip reinstated by the new leader, said he expected a “clean sweep” of the party’s executive team and the appointment of personnel that reflect a “new direction”.

“Edwin has promised fundamental root and branch reform, from the first minister all the way down,” he told The Irish News.

“Everything is up for discussion, because so many issues have arisen over the past 10-15 years. Edwin will come at it with a clean sweep.”

 

Mr Wells said Mr Poots would be “returning the party to its traditional ethos” and taking the DUP “back to its roots”.

In his first interview since topping Friday’s poll, Mr Poots said getting rid of the Irish Sea border will be his top priority in the coming months.

The agriculture minister told the Sunday Life newspaper he will not be attending north-south ministerial meetings until the protocol issue is resolved.

“The protocol is by far the biggest issue,” he told the paper, adding that it was impacting on the availability of medicines and on “supermarket goods and the food that ends up in your corner shop”.

“Goods that are staying in the UK in my view should not have checks. That is my ultimate goal,” he said.

Mr Poots also said he wants to speak with outgoing leader Mrs Foster about ensuring “a smooth transition” in the party’s leadership.

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