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Who is the former DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson?

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has stepped down from leadership of Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) after being charged with sexual offences of a historical nature.

Who is the Lagan Valley MP and former DUP leader and how has his political career played out in Northern Ireland and Westminster?

His decision to enlist in a life of politics was influenced initially not by power, but in protest against IRA violence.

Born in December 1962, the oldest of five boys and three girls, Jeffrey Donaldson was brought up in rural Kilkeel, County Down.

He described his own childhood as being "shattered" by the Troubles, most significantly by the murder of his cousin, Samuel Donaldson, a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer.

Enoch Powell
Sir Jeffrey worked for MP Enoch Powell between 1982 and 1984 after joining the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) [Getty Images]

He joined the Orange Order at the age of 16 and the Young Unionist movement soon afterwards, as well as joining the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR).

A spokesperson for the Grand Lodge of Ireland said on Friday that Sir Jeffrey's membership had been suspended "in accordance with the rules of the Loyal Orange Institution, pending the outcome of the legal process".

He began working for MP Enoch Powell between 1982 and 1984 after joining the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), later leading election campaigns for him.

His own career in frontline politics began in 1985 when he was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly to represent the South Down constituency.

He entered the failed assembly as its youngest member and later became heavily involved in the unionist movement in the United States, often joining his party's delegations to visit President Bill Clinton in Washington.

David Trimble and Jeffrey Donaldson
Jeffrey Donaldson was one of the UUP's biggest critics of the Good Friday Agreement, warning his leader David Trimble (left) against supporting it [PA Media]

In 1997, when his boss James Molyneaux retired as the Lagan Valley MP, Jeffrey Donaldson retained the seat comfortably for the Ulster Unionists.

But as political negotiations at Stormont moved towards the signing of the Good Friday peace agreement, his reputation as a man of protest remained.

He became one of the Ulster Unionist Party's biggest critics of the deal, warning his leader David Trimble against supporting it.

He, instead, argued there needed to be clear evidence of the IRA's decommissioning of weapons and disagreed on the reformation of the police, which would eventually see the RUC replaced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

Although he remained part of the UUP's negotiating team, just as the deal was nearing completion, the MP staged a dramatic walkout from the talks.

He remained a thorn in the side of Mr Trimble long after the power-sharing executive was formed.

The anticipated leadership challenge never came, though the Lagan Valley MP repeatedly refused to get in line behind party policy and supported failed bids by others to oust Mr Trimble from office.

It was no surprise that he eventually quit the party in 2003, defecting to the DUP just a month later.

He was one of three ex-UUP members to make the move - also among that trio was Arlene Foster.

It seemed a perfect fit and he quickly rose through the DUP's chain of command, no longer a figure of protest but a key policymaker within the party.

Although in recent years he has been based at Westminster, he also served as an assembly member (MLA) at Stormont and as a Lisburn councillor for a time, though he stepped down from those two roles when the ban on double-jobbing was introduced.

Jeff and Ian
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson quit the UUP in 2003 before joining the DUP under Ian Paisley [Getty Images]

In the 2009 expenses scandal he faced scrutiny along with many other MPs.

He later apologised for claiming back the cost of hotel pay-per-view films on his parliamentary expenses, repaying more than £660 to the Commons' fees office.

An ambitious politician, he became the DUP's spokesperson on defence issues in the Commons and the party's chief whip at Westminster in 2015.

The following year he became the first member of the DUP to receive a knighthood, as part of the Queen's 90th Birthday Honours list.

In June 2017, he found himself at the heart of a major negotiation as the DUP agreed a confidence-and-supply deal with the Conservative Party.

The votes of Sir Jeffrey and his nine DUP colleagues were crucial to keeping then-Prime Minister Theresa May in government, after she lost her parliamentary majority.

He later became heavily involved in talks with the government as it worked to reach a Brexit deal with the EU.

Jeffrey Donaldson pictured with then prime minister Theresa May after the DUP negotiated a confidence-and-supply deal with the Conservative Party in 2017
Jeffrey Donaldson was involved in negotiating the confidence-and-supply deal with the Conservative Party in 2017 [PA Media]

However, when Boris Johnson entered Downing Street, the DUP's hope that he would deliver an agreement for unionists appeared misguided.

Sir Jeffrey and other DUP politicians spoke out against the Irish Sea border, but were unable to persuade the prime minister to scrap it.

They were accused of wasting their influence over the government, which then disappeared entirely once Boris Johnson won a snap general election in December 2019.

That election saw the Lagan Valley MP's own performance suffer too.

He has been elected to Westminster seven times, almost all of them with an overwhelming majority.

In 2019 it fell sharply, with Alliance's Sorcha Eastwood narrowing the gap from 20,000 votes to just over 6,000 - a result few saw coming.

During Sir Jeffrey's rise to power, he made two bids for leadership.

In 2021 when Arlene Foster stood down, Sir Jeffrey lost a party leadership contest to Edwin Poots.

But after an internal party revolt a month later, Mr Poots resigned and Sir Jeffrey stepped into the leadership of the party.

As he was a Westminster MP the reins of Stormont first minister continued to be in the hands of his party colleague Paul Givan, an MLA.

Mr Givan's time at Stormont was short as the party boycotted Northern Ireland's power-sharing institutions in protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

What followed was a period of stalemate, where negotiations over the post-Brexit trading arrangements took place.

There were numerous unsuccessful Stormont recalls.

Sir Jeffrey still held out for changes when the Windsor Framework - the UK government's deal on Northern Ireland with the European Union was published.

But in January 2024, the impasse was broken.

The government agreed a deal with the DUP to restore Stormont power-sharing, this time with the DUP taking the deputy first minister role and Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill being appointed Northern Ireland's first nationalist first minister.

The intervening period had seen a Stormont election with Sinn Féin getting 27 seats, compared to the DUP's 25.

Again when the time came, Sir Jeffrey nominated a colleague - Emma Little-Pengelly - as deputy first minister.

On Friday he quit the party after being charged with historical sexual offences.

The DUP said party officers had unanimously appointed East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson as the interim leader.