DUP left ‘in a fragile state’ after Donaldson charges

"It has certainly thrown the DUP into disarray".
Robert Kindregan
Robert Kindregan

11.25 1 Apr 2024

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DUP left ‘in a fragile state’...

DUP left ‘in a fragile state’ after Donaldson charges

Robert Kindregan
Robert Kindregan

11.25 1 Apr 2024

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The DUP has been left “in a fragile state” after Jeffrey Donaldson resigned as party leader, a leading journalist has said.

The Lagan Valley MP of 27 years was arrested by the PSNI on Thursday, March 28th, just after 6am and charged with non-recent sexual offences.

On Friday, around noon, he quit as DUP leader and was replaced by MP Gavin Robinson as the new interim leader.


The DUP, and coalition partners at Stormont like Sinn Féin and the UPP, have all since released statements asking for the legal process to be respected and have pledged to work together to deliver for the Northern Ireland assembly.

The police have subsequently released two statements, the first asking the media and public to not compromise their investigation by identifying the complainant and the second to clarify the timeline of the investigation so far.

The Stormont parliament building in Belfast, Northern Ireland in August 2021 The Stormont Parliament building in Belfast, Northern Ireland in August 2021. Picture by: Malcolm Walker / Alamy Stock Photo

On Late Breakfast today, Belfast-based journalist Amanda Ferguson said the DUP is now reeling from the news.

“It has certainly thrown the DUP into disarray,” she said.

It’s a seismic political story, perhaps the most significant political story in the north in recent years.

“Obviously people’s lives are at the centre of this and people’s lives need to be respected.

“But to drill into the politics of it, there will be a Westminster election in the north later this year.”

Lagan Valley seat

Ms Ferguson said the DUP may now lose Donaldson’s Lagan Valley seat.

“Whether there is a by-election there or what happens there remains to be seen,” she said.

“But certainly, at Stormont, the position of Deputy Minister Emma Little Pengelly looks weak at the moment because she was seen as Jeffrey’s pick for that role.

“She is an unelected MLA and was co-opted into the Lagan Valley seat because Donaldson decided not to relinquish his Westminster seat and take up the position of Deputy First Minister at Stormont.”

Emma Little-Pengelly. Image: : PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Ms Ferguson said the DUPs agreement some two months ago to return to power-sharing in the North has been branded as ‘Jeffrey’s deal’ by unionists, many of whom opposed it.

“Within the party, there was quite an even split between people who wanted to go back to Government and people who didn’t,” she said.

“Whether any of those figures who are unhappy with the current set of circumstances now decide to make a power play remains to be seen.

“There has been reporting today that perhaps, Edwin Poots who was DUP leader for three weeks before he was ousted is currently the speaker up at Stormont and there was some suggestion he might relinquish that role to become deputy leader of the DUP.

“He would provide leadership within the Stormont context, rather than having a leader based at Westminster.”

'Fragile state'

Ms Ferguson said it’s still “early days” and much remains to be seen.

“We’re not sure how the DUP are going to play this but they are in a fragile state,” she said.

“Certainly, the UUP and the traditionalist unionist voice, the Alliance Party to an extent, will be looking at the political ramifications of what’s happened.

“There may be people who decide to split their allegiance or there may be people who are not comfortable about maintaining support for the DUP in this context.”

Ms Ferguson said it is “certainly a destabilising moment” for the DUP but the extent of what it means will play out in due course.

Main image: Jeffrey Donaldson. Photograph: Leah Farrell /

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Amanda Ferguson DUP Edwin Poots Emma Little-Pengelly Gavin Jeffrey Donaldson Late Breakfast MLA MP Norhtern Ireland General Assembly Power Sharing Sinn Fein Stormont UUP Westminister

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