Advertisement

Jeffrey Donaldson – latest: DUP leader resigns after being charged with historic sex offences

The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party has resigned after it was revealed he had been charged with historical sex offences.

The DUP confirmed on Friday that Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who has led the party since 2021, is stepping down and is the suspect at the centre of a scandal.

In a statement released on Friday, the DUP said: “The party chairman has received a letter from Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP confirming that he has been charged with allegations of an historical nature and indicating that he is stepping down as Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party with immediate effect.

“In accordance with the party rules, the party officers have suspended Mr Donaldson from membership, pending the outcome of a judicial process.”

Police revealed a 61-year-old man had been charged on Friday and a 57-year-old woman was arrested and charged alongside the politician for aiding and abetting additional offences.

A police spokesman told The Independent: “Detectives from the Police Service of Northern Ireland arrested and charged a 61-year-old man for non-recent sexual offences.”

Party officers have appointed Gavin Robinson MP as interim leader.

Sir Jeffrey, Northern Ireland’s longest-serving MP, was recognised by the Queen in her 2016 Birthday Honours and given a knighthood.

Key Points

  • Sir Jeffrey quits as he is charged with historic sex offences

  • Woman, 57, arrested and charged

  • Both suspects due to appear before magistrates next month

  • Gavin Robinson, DUP interim leader likely to succeed Donaldson

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson resigns after being charged with ‘historic’ offences

13:19 , Athena Stavrou

The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party has resigned after it was revealed he had been charged with historical offences.

The DUP confirmed on Friday that Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who has led the party since 2021, is stepping down and is the suspect at the centre of a scandal.

In a statement released on Friday, the DUP said: “The Party Chairman has received a letter from Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP confirming that he has been charged with allegations of an historical nature and indicating that he is stepping down as Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party with immediate effect.

“In accordance with the Party Rules, the Party Officers have suspended Mr Donaldson from membership, pending the outcome of a judicial process.”

 (PA)
(PA)

Full police statement as DUP leader arrested for historic sex offences

13:27 , Athena Stavrou

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has resigned as the leader of the DUP after he was charged with historical sex offences.

A police spokesman told The Independent: “Detectives from the Police Service of Northern Ireland arrested and charged a 61-year-old man for non-recent sexual offences.

“A 57-year-old woman was also arrested and charged at the time for aiding and abetting additional offences.

“Both are due to appear before Newry Magistrates Court on 24 April.

“As is usual procedure, all charges will be reviewed by the Public Prosecution Service.”

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

Woman, 57, arrested and charged

13:50 , Jane Dalton

A 57-year-old woman was arrested and charged alongside Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, for allegedly aiding and abetting additional offences.

A police spokesman told The Independent: “Detectives from the Police Service of Northern Ireland arrested and charged a 61-year-old man for non-recent sexual offences.

“A 57-year-old woman was also arrested and charged at the time for aiding and abetting additional offences.”

MP’s website deleted after DUP suspends him

13:57 , Jane Dalton

Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey has been suspended from the DUP pending the outcome of the judicial process.

Overnight, his website and social media accounts, including on X, Facebook and Instagram, were deleted.

 (X)
(X)

Donaldson ended DUP Stormont boycott weeks ago

14:24 , Jane Dalton

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson made the decision to bring the DUP back to powersharing in Northern Ireland just weeks ago.

As leader, he steered the party’s two-year boycott of Northern Ireland’s political institutions in protest over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

After protracted negotiations, the DUP agreed to return to Stormont last month, following the agreement of a new deal and a series of assurances around Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom.

DUP agrees deal to end boycott of Northern Ireland government

DUP leader accused colleagues of briefing against party

14:45 , Jane Dalton

Last summer, Sir Jeffrey accused some colleagues of briefing against the DUP:

Donaldson accuses DUP colleagues of briefing against the party

Questions to emerge over future of powersharing deal

15:06 , Jane Dalton

The shock resignation of the DUP leader is bound to prompt questions over the future of the deal that restored powersharing in Northern Ireland.

The agreement hinged on his backing, and much will depend on who ultimately replaces him.

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson, who has become interim leader, is a long-time ally of Sir Jeffrey and a firm backer of the return to Stormont. Mr Robinson would be an early favourite to become the permanent successor and his elevation would be unlikely to prompt a change in the party’s recent enthusiastic backing for the devolved institutions.

However, his election as leader is not a foregone conclusion and it remains to be seen whether other candidates, potentially more sceptical of the return to powersharing, will emerge.

Gavin Robinson is a long-time ally of Sir Jeffrey (PA)
Gavin Robinson is a long-time ally of Sir Jeffrey (PA)

Youngest person ever elected to Stormont: Donaldson in profile

15:15 , Jane Dalton

Who is Jeffrey Donaldson? The DUP leader accused of historical sex offences

Ex-MEP sorry Donaldson quit

15:30 , Jane Dalton

Conservative former MEP David Bannerman said he was sorry to see Sir Jeffrey quitting.

‘I won’t be bullied’ – Donaldson

15:45 , Jane Dalton

After Sir Jeffrey steered a DUP boycott of power-sharing in Northern Ireland over Brexit arrangements, the party finally agreed to return to Stormont in February. It followed the agreement of a new deal on trade arrangements and a series of measures aimed at providing assurances around Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom.

However, the DUPs dealings with government were not universally welcome and Sir Jeffrey told the Commons in January that he had been subjected to threats during the negotiations.

Later, a PSNI spokesperson said no offences were detected following an investigation - while Sir Jeffrey said a decision was made not to press charges.

He said: “We must stand against those who would seek to bully with violent threats. I wasn’t intimidated out of politics 30 years ago and I won’t be intimidated in 2024.”

Gavin Robinson, DUP interim leader likely to succeed Donaldson

15:46 , Jane Dalton

Gavin Robinson has been the DUP’s deputy leader since last June and has been appointed interim leader in the wake of Jeffrey Donaldson’s resignation.

He is likely to stay on as party leader, becoming the fourth head of the DUP since Arlene Foster was forced out in 2021.

Mr Robinson, who has been the MP for Belfast East in the House of Commons since 2015, was lord mayor of Belfast in 2012–2013.

He is one of 21 MPs who in 2019 voted against LGBT inclusive sex and relationship education for schools in England.

But in 2012 he also became the first DUP representative to attend a gay pride event, saying that as lord mayor he wanted to “engage with every section of our society”.

It is thought Mr Robinson is expected to maintain the DUP’s participation in power sharing in Northern Ireland, keeping the devolved government up and running.

DUP MP Gavin Robinson (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)
DUP MP Gavin Robinson (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

First minister says priority is to provide leadership

16:24 , Jane Dalton

Northern Ireland first minister Michelle O’Neill said her priority following the resignation was to provide leadership and continue the work of the executive.

Ms O’Neill, Sinn Fein’s vice-president, said: “My priority is to continue to provide the leadership the public expect and deserve, and to ensure the four-party executive coalition delivers for the whole of our community now and in the future.

“The DUP leader has resigned after being charged with serious offences. This is now a matter for the criminal justice system.”

 (PA)
(PA)

DUP chief quits: full story

16:30 , Jane Dalton

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson resigns facing historical offences

Resignation could affect deputy first minister

17:05 , Jane Dalton

The identity of the new DUP leader could have ramifications for Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, Emma Little Pengelly, as she was very much a Donaldson pick as the party’s nominee to jointly lead the Stormont coalition.

Ms Little Pengelly and Sinn Fein first minister Michelle O’Neill have received significant praise for their leadership of the administration since taking charge of the resurrected executive last month.

Question marks will also now hang over the DUP’s grip on the Lagan Valley parliamentary constituency, given the possibility of an imminent by-election.

Sir Jeffrey’s majority was significantly cut in the last general election amid a surge by the cross-community Alliance Party, and the DUP is likely to face a tough fight to hold the seat whenever voters next go to the polls.

Emma Little-Pengelly and Michelle O'Neill (Niall Carson/PA Wire)
Emma Little-Pengelly and Michelle O'Neill (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

17:35 , Jane Dalton

The DUP’s statement announcing Sir Jeffrey’s resignation, pictured on a phone at the party’s headquarters in Belfast:

 (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)
(Brian Lawless/PA Wire)

Resignation was big shock, says ex-Northern Ireland secretary

18:00 , Jane Dalton

Julian Smith, secretary of state for Northern Ireland from 2019 to 2020, said Sir Jeffrey’s resignation was a “big shock to everybody”.

He told Radio 4’s World at One: “I’m not concerned in any way that this shocking news today will lead to any change in the momentum behind powersharing, and the stability that has now brought as it was returned a couple of months ago.”

“In this leadership role he has played a critical part over the last few months.

“He led the negotiations with the government, and he worked with his own party to move them from their position of staying out of the executive on the basis that they didn’t agree with the Northern Ireland protocol to returning.”

On social media, Mr Smith said Mr Robinson and deputy first minister Emma Little-Pengelly “will chart a positive course for the future”.

In case you missed it: Man removed from plane following ‘verbal altercation’ with DUP leader

18:35 , Jane Dalton

A man was removed from a plane at Heathrow following a row with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson last week:

Man removed from plane following ‘verbal altercation’ with DUP leader Donaldson

Donaldson’s earlier Good Friday drama

19:05 , Jane Dalton

Sir Jeffrey dramatically walked out of the Northern Ireland peace talks on Good Friday 1998, prompting some people to comment that Good Friday was not a good day for unionists.

He had been a senior member of the Ulster Unionists’ negotiating delegation, and led a walkout of the peace talks after opposing the early release of republican and loyalist prisoners.

Alongside Arlene Foster, he had been part of a tight-knit group dubbed the “baby barristers” who opposed the Good Friday Agreement, the release of paramilitary prisoners and the direction in which then-UUP leader David Trimble was taking the party.

Hours before the historic accord was struck, the Lagan Valley MP famously left Castle Buildings at Stormont.

Last year, he said he harboured “no regrets” about the decision, adding: “What I have done is dedicate my career and my political involvement in the last 25 years to fixing the bits that haven’t worked, to getting solutions to the bits that weren’t properly addressed in 1998, and I continue in that endeavour.”

Conspiracy theories have started, warns new DUP leader

20:23 , Jane Dalton

The new leader of the DUP has accused people of engaging in “conspiracy theories” and “scoring cheap political points” after Jeffrey Donaldson was charged with historical sex offences.

Following Sir Jeffrey’s resignation, party officers unanimously appointed Gavin Robinson as interim party leader.

Mr Robinson said: “It has been a devastating revelation and has caused tremendous shock not just for myself personally or my colleagues within the DUP but for the community right across Northern Ireland.

“It came as a great shock. But we are a party and individuals that believe in justice, we have faith in our criminal justice system.”

Mr Robinson, who had been the party’s deputy leader, told Sky News: “So, in the coming days and months I think it is important none of us say anything or act in any way that would seek to prejudice what is now an ongoing criminal investigation.”

He said there was unanimity within the party that he should step forward as interim leader.

“It’s a huge responsibility, not just because of the shocking news that we have had - but that will take its course and run its course.

“But for us, recognising the significant steps forward in Northern Ireland over the last number of weeks, focusing on the importance of making Northern Ireland work, instilling a sense of positivity in devolution and making sure devolution works.”

He added: “We will focus on the job and task that we have at hand, that is our focus.

“There have already been some who have sought to score some cheap political points and sought to engage in conspiracy theories who somehow enjoy or will manipulate such devastating news for those involved.”

Grand Orange Lodge suspends Donaldson

21:08 , Jane Dalton

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s membership of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland has also been suspended.

A spokesman for the organisation said: “Jeffrey Donaldson’s membership has been suspended, in accordance with the rules of the Loyal Orange Institution, pending the outcome of the legal process.”