DUP focused on finding candidate to win Jeffrey Donaldson’s Lagan Valley seat

DUP interim leader Gavin Robinson said his party is focused on finding a candidate to win former leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s seat in Lagan Valley at the general election.

Sir Jeffrey resigned as DUP leader and was suspended from the party after he was charged with several historical sexual offences.

It is understood that Sir Jeffrey is facing one count of rape, one count of gross indecency, and several counts of indecent assault.

It is further understood that in a letter to party officers, he made clear he would be “strenuously contesting” all charges against him.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson resigns as DUP leader
Former DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (Liam McBurney/PA)

In an interview with BBC Radio Ulster, Mr Robinson insisted “all of us were in the dark” in terms of the revelations that emerged about Sir Jeffrey.

Mr Robinson said he does not know if Sir Jeffrey will stand down as MP, but said he cannot be a DUP candidate at the next election.

In an interview with the Talkback programme, Mr Robinson was asked if Sir Jeffrey will stand down as MP.

He responded: “I don’t know. I have said very clearly from last Friday that he is suspended from our party. That’s a decisive decision that we took, and that remains the case.

“So in that scenario he cannot be a candidate for the DUP, and for us as a party our focus will now be on ensuring Lagan Valley gets representation that it needs, that they have the choice of a DUP candidate for whom they will have faith in, that will champion their community, that will invest in them, that will represent their views locally and on a national stage.

“That’s the immediate challenge we have before us.

“We are now actively working with colleagues to make sure Lagan Valley has a great choice.”

It was put to Mr Robinson that Sir Jeffrey is not able to serve his constituents at present in the same capacity, and is “not there at Westminster to do the job of an MP”.

Mr Robinson responded: “That is undoubtebly the case but that is not a matter for us, that is a matter for him. He was elected to serve and whether he continues to do that or not is definitely a matter for him.

“Let’s not assume Lagan Valley is without representation, the deputy First Minister, our Education Minister, swathes of councillors have the privilege of representing Lagan Valley. They are invested in the community of Lagan Valley.”

Asked if Sir Jeffrey has any continuing role within the DUP or involved in any conversations at any level within the DUP, Mr Robinson said: “We recognise that he has been suspended from the party, he resigned as party leader, he was suspended from the party, he holds no role within the Democratic Unionist Party.”

Mr Robinson previously served as deputy leader of the DUP before taking on the interim leader role following Sir Jeffrey’s resignation.

The East Belfast MP, who has been a member of the DUP for 20 years and served in various roles from press officer to special adviser and councillor, said he has “always been happy to put my shoulder to the wheel for the party”.

“Having been asked to step up in these circumstances, I don’t think anybody would say ‘yeah, that’s for me’, that consideration is gone now, I am doing it, and doing it with the total unified support of my party colleagues,” he said.

“There might be some weight on my shoulders now but I have big broad shoulders and it’s my time to stand up and give a level of determination and hope for colleagues and the wider community.”

North South Ministerial Council
Tanaiste Micheal Martin talks with deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly and First Minister Michelle O’Neill (Oliver McVeigh/PA)

“I believe unionism has a very strong and capable leader in Gavin Robinson,” she said.

“He has my full support and I know that he has the support of unionism right across the piece.

“I wish him all the best in the weeks and months ahead. I think he will do a fantastic job to be that strong leader for unionism at this time.”

– Advertisement –
– Advertisement –