It was one of the most explosive days of local politics. After just three weeks as leader of the DUP, Edwin Poots resigned, causing turmoil in the party.
Outside the DUP headquarters, the political press pack gathered around the weather-beaten door of the Dandela Avenue building, waiting patiently over the latest development in the party’s never-ending drama.
Poots emerges from the building after a “strong” meeting with party officials, his dream of leading the party, helped by his father, ends abruptly after only 21 days.
In what was arguably the worst day of the political career of Poots, Arlene Foster, the woman he replaced as leader in a brutal coup, was a very different day.
Mrs Foster tweeted: “Just had a lovely lunch at Dean’s with a good friend. Hospitality is great to be open again. Hope everyone has a wonderful day this lovely sunny afternoon #ProudofNI.”
It seems that revenge was best served over a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
his downfall? Going against the vast majority of legislators and MPs who wanted to stop the reconstitution of the executive before the formal vote.
In the past, Poots had told Radio Ulster that he was “fully committed” to completing all aspects of the New Decade’s New Approach deal, including Irish language provision, to the anger of many within the party.
When he named his fellow Lagan Valley legislator Paul Givhan as First Minister without the party’s approval, his fortunes were sealed.
A year after the collapse of the DUP, what has been the outcome of the chaos for the party, which since its formation had only three leaders till 2021, then three in a span of a month?
Mrs Foster – now Dame Arlene – dropped out of electoral politics following a leadership challenge. An activist from her university years, few wondered how Farmanagh would deal with the cuts and thrusts of the female debate room.
However, she has thrived in her new environment, landing a gig hosting her own show on GB News.
It’s a role she enjoys, and she appears more at ease from the pressures of party politics, though that doesn’t mean her time in the DUP still doesn’t cast a shadow.
He still has allies in the party, who are deeply divided.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was installed as leader within days of Poots’ resignation.
However, his way to the top spot was through the scenic route. While there was a majority that wanted a change of leadership, they regarded the Lagan Valley MP as a status quo, very close to Dame Arlene’s thinking.
According to an insider, when party officials realized “he would be sold a puppy” they realized Donaldson would be the safer choice – but he would always be the second choice.
He also managed a party that had broken down badly. With two very defined camps, he is completely at the mercy of party officials.
“Never in the history of the DUP have the party officials had such power,” said an insider.
“In the past, the leader would have told party officials what the next step would be, and they would back down and support him. Now Jeffrey has to ask permission and they tell him what the next step is.
This hinders Donaldson from making major policy decisions, including whether the DUP will nominate a speaker or return to the executive.
It was seen on several occasions how uncomfortable the Lagan Valley MPs looked at anti-protocol rallies before the elections.
Previously considered a moderate, a modernist, a good negotiator in the context of the DUP, he is now a leader who is grateful for his existence to the party officials who have pushed him to the radicals.
Among party officials, there are those who are supporters of Poots: the party’s Free Presbyterian wing, Paislites who want to keep the DUP loyal to its roots – a traditional, fundamentalist, political party with a religious ethos.
Unlike Foster, Edwin Poots refuses to allow the disapproval to force him from the party. Currently the MLA for South Belfast, he is down but not out.
Then there are those loyal to Sir Jeffrey who want to modernize and future proof the party.
But there is also a third group, ‘floaters’ – people who can be influenced by policy rather than by individual. They currently hold the balance of power, and they can determine any future moves against the DUP leader.
And that will continue to be a problem for Donaldson until he breaks that cycle.
He has two options, either to win over the majority of party officials and therefore secure not only his leadership, but also his ability to make independent decisions.
Or he wins over party membership, wins the confidence of DUP loyalists, makes himself indispensable and therefore forces party officials to accept and support his leadership.
The disastrous turnout had changed to an extent – the DUP is no longer the single largest party, but did not suffer the widespread defeat predicted in the recent assembly election.
It has also seen any challenge from Jim Allister.
Protocol legislation, introduced by Liz Truss, covers almost all DUP demands and can be sold as Sir Donaldson’s success. , Leadership and Influence in Westminster.
But the party still needs to work with a Sinn Féin first minister to overcome the hurdle of nominating a deputy first minister, something it declined to comment on during the election campaign.
Donaldson is a leader in name, but he does not use the power of the party’s big hitters, former leaders Dr. Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson.
He is a leader who constantly puts his hand on his shoulder, always aware that one lapse can bring his leadership to an accidental end.