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Edwin Poots: Who is the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly?

Edwin Poots
Edwin Poots was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly for the first time in 1998

Edwin Poots is steeped in the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

From councillor to assembly member, minister and - for a brief period - leader, he has been in front-line unionist politics for almost three decades.

On Saturday, he became the seventh Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly since its founding in 1998.

Previously a councillor in Lisburn, Mr Poots was elected to that first assembly, having opposed the Good Friday Agreement.

He was among senior unionists who argued there needed to be clear evidence of the IRA's decommissioning of weapons before power-sharing.

He also disagreed on moves to reform the police, which eventually led to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) being replaced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

After the DUP and Sinn Féin agreed to share power together and formed a government in 2007, Mr Poots was appointed as culture and arts minister in the executive.

It was the first of a number of ministerial briefs he has held during his political career.

In 2011, he was appointed health minister, a role in which he often made headlines.

The DUP is a socially conservative party and Edwin Poots has supported policies in that mould.

He faced criticism when he maintained a ban on gay men in Northern Ireland donating blood, despite the ban having been lifted in the rest of the UK.

Mr Poots said he wanted to maintain the ban in Northern Ireland on the basis of ensuring public safety - but the High Court ruled in 2015 that it was irrational.

At one stage, he also argued against allowing gay couples from adopting children.

Mr Poots's religiously-influenced views - including his belief that the earth is 6,000 years old - have also generated headlines in the past.

Controversy - and a ministerial return

In 2018, he was embroiled in controversy after it emerged that his son Luke, who was then a councillor, had voted on planning applications for which Edwin Poots lobbied.

Mr Poots told BBC News NI: "No conflict of interest has been exercised in any shape or form by either myself, my son, other DUP members or anybody else on the council.

"The council makes their decisions based on the information provided to them."

He has never been an MP, having spent much of his career at Stormont.

In January 2020, he was reinstated as a minister when power-sharing returned, taking up the mantle at the agriculture and environment department.

It seemed a sensible fit for the Lisburn farmer who had studied at Greenmount Agricultural College.

But it would present difficulties as his department was tasked with overseeing the construction of post-Brexit border control posts - implementing the Irish Sea border that he and other DUP colleagues staunchly opposed.

In February 2021, he faced criticism for withdrawing staff carrying out Brexit checks at Larne port, citing fears for their safety.

Covid-19 lockdown stance

He was also an outspoken opponent of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

Other political parties called for him to apologise after he said the difference in transmission between nationalist and unionist areas was "around six to one".

Mr Poots insisted he hadn't linked the spread of the virus to religious affiliations, but it caused a rift with executive colleagues at a time when ministers were faced with tackling a surge in cases.

In November 2020, he said he opposed tough lockdown restrictions imposed by the executive due to the impact they would have on the economy - which led to accusations he was undermining the health messaging.

Two months later, Mr Poots revealed he had been diagnosed with kidney cancer and needed to undergo emergency surgery. He stood down temporarily, but within a matter of weeks he had recovered, and returned to his job in the executive.

Irish sea border protest
Mr Poots and other DUP colleagues staunchly oppose the Northern Ireland Protocol

He made no secret of having a long-running ambition to lead the DUP.

When Arlene Foster agreed to stand down in April 2021, he became the first person to announce an intention to replace her.

He ran against Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, and claimed early in the race that he had the backing of a majority of assembly members and MPs - despite counter claims from Sir Jeffrey camp.

In May 2021, Mr Poots he won the contest by 19 votes to 17.

But his time in the party's top job was short-lived - Mr Poots resigned after 21 days following an internal party revolt.

Sir Jeffrey was ratified as the party's new leader in June 2021, with Mr Poots continuing as Stormont agriculture minister and as an assembly member for Lagan Valley.

In March 2022, Mr Poots switched constituency to Belfast South and he was returned there in the May 2022 assembly election.

Now, as Speaker, he's the person entrusted with ensuring the Northern Ireland Assembly gets through its business as efficiently as possible.