April 15th, 2024

Leader of Northern Ireland’s main unionist party steps down as he is charged with sexual offenses

By Danica Kirka, The Associated Press on March 29, 2024.

FILE - Democratic Unionist Party leader Jeffrey Donaldson pauses as he speaks to the media at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, on May 9, 2022. The leader of Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party has stepped down after being charged with allegations of a historic nature, the party said in a statement on Friday, March 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison, File)

LONDON (AP) – The leader of Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party has stepped down from the top job after being charged with sexual offenses of a historic nature, the party said in a statement on Friday.

Jeffrey Donaldson left his post with immediate effect pending the outcome of the judicial process, the Democratic Unionist Party said. In accordance with party rules, it has suspended him from membership.

The announcement came after police in Northern Ireland said a 61-year-old man had been arrested and charged with non-recent sexual offenses. A 57-year-old woman was charged with aiding and abetting additional offenses, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said. Both suspects are due in court on April 24.

British police generally do not identify suspects by name.

The resignation of Donaldson, who has been party leader since 2021, throws the DUP into disarray ahead of U.K. parliamentary elections expected later this year. As the biggest unionist party, the DUP is the voice of Northern Ireland voters who seek to maintain the region’s historic ties to the United Kingdom.

Donaldson is a pivotal figure in the DUP, taking the party out of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing administration for more than two years to pressure the U.K. central government into amending post-Brexit trading arrangements. The DUP agreed to return to power-sharing with the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein earlier this year following a series of assurances about Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom.

Donaldson has been a member of Parliament since 1997. He was initially a member of the Ulster Unionist Party but left the party over its support for the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that largely ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland. He joined the DUP in 2004.

Gavin Robinson, the member of Parliament for Belfast East, was named interim party leader.

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