Edwin Poots has won the leadership of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and will replace Arlene Foster as she steps down next month.
Poots, who has a long history of opposing LGBT+ rights, was declared winner of the DUP’s leadership race on Friday (14 May) shortly before 5pm, following an internal election. His election rival Sir Jeffrey Donaldson received 17 votes compared to Poots’ 19 votes.
Elsewhere, Paula Bradley was declared deputy leader of the DUP, winning 18 votes compared to Gregory Campbell’s 16 votes.
While Edwin Poots will succeed Foster as leader of the DUP, he is not expected to take over as Northern Ireland’s first minister. He has previously signalled that he will nominate another member of the party to take the position when Foster steps down at the end of June.
Speaking directly after the leadership result was announced, Poots thanked “almighty God” and said it is “an immense honour and privilege” to have received the backing of his party.
Poots admitted that Northern Ireland has had its “trials”, but said the people have shown “remarkable resilience”.
He said the DUP is the “authentic voice of unionism” and promised that it will continue to be under his leadership.
Edwin Poots is a ‘young earth creationist’ who opposes LGBT+ rights
Poots is a “young earth creationist” who believes that the world is only between 6,000 and 10,000 years old.
He is widely expected to bring the DUP further to the right after the traditionally hardline party took a somewhat more moderate approach to some issues under Foster’s leadership.
Poots has pushed back against advancements in LGBT+ rights throughout his political career.
In 2005, he told the BBC’s Nolan Show that civil partnerships were “unnatural” and “abominable”.
He later faced criticism from the LGBT+ community when he fought to stop gay and bisexual men from donating blood in Northern Ireland, claiming that the “high risk sexual behaviour” of queer men should exclude them.
Poots also appealed a 2012 High Court ruling which found same-sex couples in civil partnerships were being discriminated against because they weren’t allowed to adopt children.
Speaking at the time, Poots said: “Shame on the courts for going down the road of constantly attacking Christian principles, Christian ethics, Christian morals, which this society was based on and gave us a very good foundation.”
LGBT+ rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said Poots’ election as leader of the DUP is “bad news” for queer people.
“He’s a notorious homophobe. He makes Arlene Foster look liberal. As health minister, he refused to lift the lifetime ban on gay blood donors. Poots also opposed same-sex marriage and parenting. He would like to drag the DUP backwards towards the dark days of his mentor, Rev Ian Paisley, when the party was the most homophobic and intolerant political party in the UK.”
He was also criticised for his past comments about LGBT+ people by Green Party councillor Anthony Flynn.
Sharing a video of his comments about civil partnerships, Flynn tweeted: “Will the new leader of the DUP now apologise for these comments and work to build trust and co-operation with the LGBTQ community in Northern Ireland?”
Poots was elected leader of the DUP after Arlene Foster announced that she was stepping down in April following reports that there was an internal heave against her.
Unionists in Northern Ireland were reportedly dissatisfied with her handling of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was implemented to prevent a hard border from being introduced on the island of Ireland.
However, her decision to abstain on a conversion therapy vote was apparently the final straw, with MLAs and MPs signing a letter of no confidence in the days afterwards.
Edwin Poots was contacted for comment.