New Democratic Unionist party leader Edwin Potts faces a series of resignations as Northern Ireland’s largest party continues to collapse.
It is understood that several members of the DUP, including elected representatives, will resign from the party this week as the repercussions for the ouster of former leader Arlene Foster intensify. “I will resign this week and there will be others too,” said one of the elected representatives.
It comes as the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is investigating allegations that the Ulster Defense Association (UDA), an illegal pro-government group, has issued sinister threats to the Contender’s Driving Campaign Team in an attempt to thwart the outcome.
Jeffrey Donaldson, a parliamentarian for the Lagan Valley, made the claim as Mr. Potts was confirmed as leader during a special “split” meeting of the DUP in Belfast last week.
A party member who was present agreed that there could be “legitimate pressure” from the Loyalists, “but what Jeffrey was referring to was not in any way ambiguous.”
Understandably, some of the grievances are based on “intimidation and threat” messages sent to senior DUP members close to Mr. Donaldson.
According to the sources, “You Next” was among the alleged threats directed at Donaldson’s team members, while other communications were made via phone and email.
A PSNI spokeswoman said: “The police have received a complaint that a number of members of a political party have been threatened during a recent leadership campaign.”
The Sunday Independent I previously mentioned how UDA’s “mysterious characters” had used bully-boy tactics by threatening DUP members to sign a letter of distrust in Mrs. Foster.
Several loyalists were alleged to have helped rally support by “reminding” some MLAs that if they did not sign the proposal, their seats in next year’s Assembly elections would be in jeopardy.
During Mr. Potts’ acceptance speech, several prominent DUP members, including Mr. Donaldson and Diane Dodds, left the meeting Thursday evening.
In another development, Paul Peel, Foster’s close friend and colleague in her constituency in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, largely resigned from the party after Mr. Potts’ endorsement.
Bell warned that the DUP would lose “thousands of votes” over recent events.
“We can’t go around the doors, people in Fermanagh and South Tyrone will vote for anyone except for the DUP. This is not because of the election, but because of what happened before the election.”
The party split, the police investigation and numerous resignations over the next week are not the only issues Potts has to grapple with.
His choice of Prime Minister and how he responds to outstanding issues such as the implementation of Irish language legislation and the Northern Ireland Protocol will be closely monitored by Sinn Féin, his government partners.
A source from the Sinn Fein party said: “It is important to remember that the majority of parties and ministers in the executive branch do not support his position.”
The source said the party has not ruled out rejecting a first vice-minister nomination after Potts proposed replacing Foster, who is believed to be former Communities Minister Paul Givan.
He is partly blamed for the collapse of the institutions mandated four years ago, when he and his officials cut funding for an Irish-language initiative and forced early elections.
Another source said, “I hear September discussing possible elections.”
In Dublin, Potts’ first few weeks will be watched closely by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who is expected to speak to the DUP leader about the contentious issue of the protocol.
Speaking after his election as leader, Potts claimed that relations between Belfast and Dublin are “really, really bad”.
Meanwhile, the British-Irish Council will be held in Coe Fermanagh next month, where Mr. Martin, along with British government Michael Gove and Nicolas Sturgeon of Scotland, will meet with leaders from Wales, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey and Northern Ireland. .
However, whoever will lead Stormont is still seen as Mrs. Foster, who is still the first secretary, has threatened to resign this Tuesday – weeks ahead of schedule – if Mr Potts names her successor.