Leader of Northern Ireland’s main pro-union party resigns after police charges

The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Northern Ireland’s main pro-union party, is stepping down after he was charged with “allegations of an historical nature,” the DUP announced on Friday.

Jeffrey Donaldson, 61, confirmed to his party in a letter that he had been charged with historical allegations and resigned as leader with immediate effect, the party said in a statement.

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

The announcement came hours after police issued a statement on Friday saying that a 61-year-old man had been charged with non-recent sexual offenses, but did not name the person.

“Detectives from the Police Service of Northern Ireland arrested and charged a 61-year-old man for non-recent sexual offences,” the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) statement said. “A 57-year-old woman was also arrested and charged at the time for aiding and abetting additional offences.”

UK and Irish media have reported that the police charges relate to Donaldson. Both individuals charged by police are expected to appear before Newry Magistrates Court on April 24.

Donaldson’s social media accounts were deleted overnight, including on Facebook, Instagram, X and LinkedIn. His page on the DUP’s website was also taken down.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Michelle O’Neill said Friday her “priority” was to “continue to provide the leadership the public expect and deserve” following Donaldson’s resignation.

“The DUP Leader has resigned after being charged with serious offences,” she said in the statement, adding: “This is now a matter for the criminal justice system.”

O’Neill, who is a member of the pro-united Ireland party Sinn Fein, is joint head of the Northern Irish government alongside Emma Little-Pengelly of the DUP, a pro-union, pro-United Kingdom party.

O’Neill said that she will strive to “ensure the four-party executive coalition delivers for the whole of our community now and in the future.”

Donaldson had been chief whip of the DUP since May 2015 and became party leader in 2021.

First elected in 1997, he was the longest serving sitting lawmaker in Northern Ireland before his resignation, according to the DUP.

He was first elected as a member of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), but switched his affiliation to the DUP in 2004.

Under his leadership, the DUP refused to participate in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government in protest over post-Brexit trading rules. This two-year political deadlock came to an end in February.

The DUP announced on Friday it had unanimously appointed Gavin Robinson as interim party leader.

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