Jeffrey Donaldson has been confirmed as the new leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) after Edwin Poots dramatically resigned last week.
The MP, who previously served as vice president of the Keep Marriage Special campaign, was the only DUP member who put himself forward for the party leadership. He became leader by default after nominations closed at 12pm on Tuesday (22 June).
In a statement, Jeffrey Donaldson said he has “the vision to unite Northern Ireland and heal the divisions of the past”.
“The Northern Ireland Assembly is the place where every element of our society is represented. The coalition government is unwieldy, but it ensures every voice is heard,” Donaldson said.
“Such partnership is how we should move forward. It must be based on respect for each other’s mandate.”
Donaldson went on to promise unionists that he will speak to Boris Johnson about the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is a part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The incoming leader said it is “not realistic to expect stability” in Northern Ireland when unionists oppose the protocol.
“I want to bring stability and encourage everyone to focus on what unites us as a people rather than on what divides us. There has been too much focus on division and recrimination both within unionism and within Northern Ireland.
“I will play my part but the government and Brussels must step up and recognise the flaws of the protocol and how it was foisted upon Northern Ireland.”
Donaldson’s appointment comes at the end of a turbulent few weeks for the DUP. Arlene Foster resigned as leader at the end of April following an internal revolt, and Edwin Poots took her place just weeks later.
However, Poots’ leadership came to a dramatic halt after just 20 days when he pushed ahead with nominating Paul Givan as first minister despite sharp opposition from his party.
Donaldson’s confirmation as leader of the party raises questions about who will become Northern Ireland’s next first minister. Givan has been told to step down, but Donaldson is currently ineligible to serve as first minister because he is an MP rather than an MLA.
The incoming leader has previously stated that he will fight to win a seat in the Assembly, which would enable him to serve as first minister.
Jeffrey Donaldson has a long history of opposing LGBT+ rights
The DUP has a long history of opposing any advancements in LGBT+ rights, and Donaldson is no exception to that rule. He fought tirelessly against marriage equality as vice president of the Keep Marriage Special campaign. The group likened marriage between people of the same gender to incest.
He also backed the use of peace process powers that allowed DUP members to veto marriage equality legislation in Northern Ireland’s Assembly. Speaking after equal marriage moved forward in England and Wales, he said: “Our view would be that there certainly would not be a majority in favour in Northern Ireland of extending these powers to the province, and there is certainly no intention to legislate for this.”
Donaldson didn’t stop there – after marriage equality was finally pushed through by the UK parliament, he turned his attention to education instead. In March 2019, he faced backlash from queer people in Northern Ireland when he was one of just 21 MPs who voted against the introduction of inclusive sex and relationship education in English school.
He later claimed that sex and relationships education was being “taken over by ideologues and special interest groups who wish to promote their own agendas which in a number of cases are leading to serious child protection and safeguarding issues”.
Speaking in February 2020, Donaldson said he wanted to “alert parliamentarians to the dangers involved and the potential increase in emotional, psychological and physical harms that are already arising due to the way RSE is being handled in some schools.”
Donaldson’s voting record confirms that he has little interest in advancing the rights of Northern Ireland’s LGBT+ community. He has voted against, or been absent, for every single legislative progression on LGBT+ rights over the last two decades.