By David Young and Rebecca Black, PA
The North's Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has announced his intention to stand for the leadership of the DUP.
The widely anticipated move by Mr Poots comes 24 hours after Arlene Foster announced her intention to stand down as party leader and Northern Ireland First Minister.
The Lagan Valley Assembly member has been viewed as one of the main contenders to replace his departing leader, who was forced to quit in the face of an internal heave against her.
Ms Foster is standing down as DUP leader on May 28th and as First Minister at the end of June.
Today, I announce my candidacy for leader of the Democratic Unionist Party. I love this country and its people and I look forward to engaging with party colleagues in the days ahead. pic.twitter.com/Qesd3GTCwR
— Edwin Poots MLA (@edwinpootsmla) April 29, 2021
In a video posted on Twitter, Mr Poots outlined his reasons for running.
“I am a proud Northern Ireland man, I love its people and its place, and it faces many challenging times, it’s with that in mind, I’m putting my name forward for the leadership for the Democratic Unionist Party,” he said.
“I look forward to the engagement and the debate with colleagues and the wider public in this contest.
“Northern Ireland is a place that has had many great things over this last hundred years, I wish to see us rebuild, revitalise, reinvigorate and revive for the next hundred.”
It is unclear whether Mr Poots will yet have competition in his bid to take charge of Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party.
The DUP has never had a contested leadership race.
Other names thought to be in the mix for the soon to be vacant leadership include MPs Jeffrey Donaldson and Gavin Robinson.
Veteran East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson may also consider a run.
There is some speculation that when Mrs Foster does depart, the twin roles she currently occupies could be split, with one politician taking on the role of party leader and another being appointed First Minister.
That would potentially allow an MP to lead the party from Westminster while an MLA takes on the First Minister’s job.
While Ms Foster had been under mounting pressure from disgruntled DUP supporters for months, the pace at which her grip on power slipped this week has surprised many.
Her resignation on Wednesday came a day after party colleagues unhappy with her leadership moved against her, with a majority of senior elected representatives signing a letter of no confidence.
Discontent at the DUP’s Brexit strategy was a major factor, with party rank-and-file laying unhappy at the emergence of an Irish Sea border.
Traditionalists from the party’s religious fundamentalist wing also harboured concerns over positions Ms Foster had taken on some social issues.
Ms Foster was back at her desk on Thursday as she co-chaired a meeting of the Northern Executive.