Little-Pengelly resolute in pursuit of stability

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Little-Pengelly resolute in pursuit of stability
  • By Jayne McCormack
  • BBC News NI political correspondent

Image source, Liam McBurney/PA Media

Image caption,

Emma Little-Pengelly said she was “deeply shocked and devastated” by the allegations

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly has said she is “determined” to ensure political stability in the days ahead.

Sir Jeffrey stepped down from the position after he was charged with rape and other historical sexual offences on Thursday.

He has said he will be strenuously contesting the charges.

In a statement posted on Facebook on Saturday, she said she was “deeply shocked and devastated” by the allegations.

Mrs Little-Pengelly became deputy first minister in February after the DUP ended its boycott of power-sharing.

In her statement, she said she would be working closely with Gavin Robinson as interim DUP leader to “continue the work of tackling the big issues faced by Northern Ireland”.

She added that her thoughts were with those “who have put their faith” in the criminal justice system.

Her remarks echoed those of Mr Robinson who sent an internal newsletter to all DUP members on Saturday morning.

Image caption,

Gavin Robinson was unanimously appointed as DUP interim leader by the party officers on Friday

In the memo, Mr Robinson said the police service and courts “must be allowed to complete their processes without interference”.

“Nothing that any of us say or do, must in anyway compromise that process,” he wrote.

“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.”

Analysis

This is certainly not the Easter weekend anyone in Northern Ireland politics saw coming.

Just over 24 hours since the bombshell broke, we’re now seeing a drip feed of reaction from some of the DUP’s most senior members.

It is no coincidence that much of Emma Little-Pengelly’s statement mirrored – and in some parts word-for-word – the response from Gavin Robinson.

The party’s interim leader and the deputy first minister – both close confidantes of Sir Jeffrey – have a massive and unexpected challenge on their hands.

Gavin Robinson’s sole interview with one broadcaster yesterday was followed up today with a memo to all DUP members in a bid to reassure the party and keep everyone on message.

As in a crisis management situation as serious and legally sensitive as this one, the DUP will want to keep control of the narrative in the days ahead.

So far there is no sign of any division within party ranks.

By carefully managing media appearances and statements, the DUP will hope to keep it that way, conscious of the electoral obstacles that lie ahead.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has issued a statement in reaction to social media commentary following yesterday’s resignation of Sir Jeffrey.

The PSNI statement does not name the former DUP leader but police say they are “aware of ongoing commentary on social media platforms” following the arrest and charges of a 61-year-old man in relation to non-recent sexual offences.

It goes on to remind social media users and news editors that “in investigations of this kind, victims are given complete anonymity by law unless they choose to waive that themselves”.

“The publication of any information which is likely to lead to the identification of victims is a criminal offence, and can be investigated accordingly,” it says.

Image caption,

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has been charged with rape and other historical sexual offences

Mr Robinson went on to say that the DUP 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.”

The DUP’s party officers met on Friday and appointed Mr Robinson as interim leader.

In a statement it said that Sir Jeffrey Donaldson had confirmed that he had been charged with allegations of an historical nature and was stepping down as DUP leader.

The party’s officers suspended Mr Donaldson from membership, pending the outcome of a judicial process.

Sir Jeffrey’s letter to the DUP said he would be strenuously contesting the charges.

A 57-year-old woman has also been charged with aiding and abetting in connection with the alleged offences.

They were both arrested on Thursday morning by PSNI detectives and were questioned before being charged on Thursday night.

He and the 57-year-old woman are due to appear in court next month.

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