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Deputy First Minister ‘determined to provide stability’

DUP Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Emma Little-Pengelly has described her shock at the resignation of party leader Jeffrey Donaldson as she vowed to work to “provide stability”.

Lagan Valley MP Mr Donaldson quit as DUP leader yesterday and was suspended by the party after he was charged with historical sexual offences.

The 61-year-old politician, who was arrested and charged on Thursday, will appear in court in Newry, Co Down, on 24 April.

He travelled to London early yesterday following his release from Antrim police station on Thursday night.

A 57-year-old woman has been charged with aiding and abetting offences in relation to the same police investigation.

It is understood that in a letter to party officers informing them of the allegations Mr Donaldson made clear he would be “strenuously contesting” all charges against him.

In a statement on social media Ms Little-Pengelly said: “I know many, many people are deeply shocked and devastated by this news, as I am.

“Victims must always have the best opportunity for justice. This must be fully respected and supported.

“My thoughts are with those suffering who have put their faith in the criminal justice system. Protecting the integrity of that process necessitates significant restrictions on what can be said. I have faith in our justice system.

“I want to assure you that I am determined to do all I can to provide stability. I will be working closely with our new interim party leader Gavin Robinson and my colleagues in the time ahead to continue the work of tackling the big issues faced by Northern Ireland.

“There is much to do. We are determined to deliver for all of the people of Northern Ireland.”

Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Emma Little-Pengelly

Interim DUP leader Gavin Robinson has told colleagues the party is not about any one individual.

In an email message to members a day after he was appointed to the role following Mr Donaldson’s shock resignation, Mr Robinson said: “Our thoughts are with those suffering and who have put their faith in our criminal justice system.

“The police service and courts must be allowed to complete their processes without interference. Nothing that any of us say or do, must in any way compromise that process.

“There will be some who will attempt to score cheap political points, but I know that colleagues and friends across Northern Ireland will ignore the noise and focus on what really matters.

“The Democratic Unionist Party is not about any one individual. We are a party of MPs, MLAs, councillors, and scores of dedicated members across all parts of Northern Ireland.

“We exist to build a better and stronger Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.

“I am honoured to take up the position of interim leader of the party. I wish you all a happy and peaceful Easter break.”

Interim DUP leader Gavin Robinson

‘We were all shocked, this just came totally out of the blue’

The DUP has been plunged into “turmoil” by the resignation of Mr Donaldson, a senior party colleague has said.

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson described the revelation that Mr Donaldson had been charged with historical sex offences as a “bolt from the blue”.

Mr Wilson also gave his full backing to interim leader Mr Robinson, insisting the DUP should not be distracted by a leadership contest this side of the general election.

Police today issued a warning against speculation on the case, with officers highlighting that it was a criminal offence to post or publish anything that might lead to the identification of alleged victims in sexual offences investigations.

East Belfast MP Mr Robinson, who was DUP deputy leader, was unanimously appointed interim leader in an emergency meeting of the party hierarchy yesterday.

Mr Wilson said the party now had to regroup and focus on the election.

“We were all shocked, this just came totally out of the blue,” he told Cool FM news.

“We found out about it, I think, just the night before. We called a meeting then first thing in the morning and all of us were kind of gobsmacked that this had happened because there was absolutely no indication that there was anything of this nature about to break.”

He added: “Any party which is hit with this kind of shock is bound to be in turmoil.

“On Thursday we thought we were getting prepared for a general election. We were going to talk about the kind of themes for the general election, that was really what the focus was, and then suddenly you’re thrown totally off course.”

Mr Robinson had been a key ally of Mr Donaldson and was fully behind his decision to back a Government deal on post-Brexit trading arrangements that saw the DUP end its two-year boycott of powersharing at Stormont and return to the Assembly and Executive in February.


Read more: Donaldson charges a ‘devastating revelation’ for DUP, says Robinson

Resignation of DUP leader a political bombshell out of the blue

Donaldson resignation follows almost 40 years in politics


DUP MP Sammy Wilson

Mr Wilson is among several high-profile party members who have been openly critical of the British Government measures, insisting they have not gone far enough to remove the so-called Irish Sea border.

Despite their different views on the deal, Mr Wilson made clear he was fully supportive of Mr Robinson leading their party into the general election.

“Our next focus has to be the general election,” he said.

“We’re going to have a general election in which unionism is going to be under huge threat.

“I’ve no doubt that the events of this week will galvanise those anti-unionist parties – the SDLP, Sinn Fein, the Alliance (party) will see that we’ve been weakened by this. They’ll make a big push.

“There’s division within unionism, which is going to be difficult, as well. And this is an election where I know Sinn Fein’s aim is to become the biggest party for the third time, the third election (in a row) in Northern Ireland, and then of course, if there’s a new Labour government, they’ll push for a referendum (on Irish unity) etc.

“So we know how crucial this election is and, therefore, we’re going to focus now on Gavin getting our message across that, look, there’s a grave threat to the Union in this election, and we’ve got to get unionists settled and galvanised and around the party, the only unionist party that can really successfully steer a way through this election.”

Mr Wilson added: “We’re not going to start focusing now on a leadership election.

“The fact that we chose (Mr Robinson) unanimously shows that there’s a confidence that he can take us through these difficult circumstances. And, of course, we’ll all rally behind him and give him whatever support he needs.”

Mr Donaldson’s membership of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland has also been suspended following the charges.

The former leader’s website and social media accounts, including X, Facebook and Instagram, have all been deleted.

Yesterday’s shock announcement came just weeks after the long-standing MP made the decision to return the party to powersharing in Northern Ireland.

Government ‘stands ready’ to work with Robinson

Speaking on RTÉ’s Saturday with Mary Regan Minister of State Jack Chambers has outlined how the government “stands ready” to work with Mr Robinson.

“We need to ensure across the board we have the full effect and functioning of the institutions and the Executive,” Mr Chambers said.

“We will be working with everyone within the northern administration to ensure that happens and we underpin progress we made in recent weeks.”

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín said the charges against Mr Donaldson create “instability” and those who opposed the post Brexit deal may now be emboldened to “try to flex their political muscles”.

He also criticised what he described as a “major weakness” in the institutions where “any party can collapse it”. Adding that needs to be reformed.

Sinn Féin’s Mairead Farrell said First Minister Michelle O’Neill has reached out to other parties in the aftermath of Mr Donaldson’s resignation and discussed the importance of real leadership and her commitment to power-sharing.

Mr Donaldson, who has had an almost 40-year career in politics, became DUP leader in July 2021.

His career started with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and in 1985, aged 22, he was the youngest person to be elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

His relationship with former UUP leader David Trimble deteriorated when he led a walkout of the 1998 peace talks after opposing the early release of republican and loyalist prisoners.

He left the UUP to join the DUP in January 2004.

He was recognised by Queen Elizabeth II in her 2016 Birthday Honours and was given a knighthood.


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