DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said he intends to run as a candidate in Lagan Valley in next year’s Assembly elections, if a seat does not become available before then.
The decision could see the current Lagan Valley MP running to become a Stormont MLA in the same constituency as the man he replaced as party leader, Edwin Poots, and the man he intends to replace as First Minister, Paul Givan.
The DUP currently holds two Stormont seats in the Lagan Valley constituency.
Mr Poots initially defeated Sir Jeffrey in the DUP’s first ever leadership contest earlier this year.
However, he was forced to resign within weeks following an internal party revolt over his decision to proceed with the appointment of Mr Givan as First Minister.
Sir Jeffrey then stood again for party leader and was elected unopposed.
At the time he said he intended to return to Stormont from his current position at Westminster, but until now has not declared in which constituency he intends to stand. He also said he intends to take the position of First Minister.
He told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme: “I can’t return to the Assembly until such times as a vacancy occurs where I would be able to slot in. That hasn’t happened to date, but if it does happen then, obviously, I am more than keen to step forward to return to the Assembly and to undertake the role of First Minister.
“My MLA team are fully behind me as leader and that is evident from the contacts I have had with them and the meetings we have had. Things have settled down within the party and we are now focused on the job at hand, which includes tackling the Northern Ireland Protocol, dealing with issues related to legacy of our troubled past.
“The MLAs are elected by their constituents; you can’t just go to an MLA and say ‘It is time for you to step aside’. They have a mandate to continue in their role until the next Assembly election and it is only in circumstances where, for personal reasons, they might wish to step down before the election that a vacancy might arise.”
He added: “I intend to stand in the Assembly elections if I am unable to return to the Assembly before that.
“I will be leading the DUP team into the Assembly elections. as I have stated before.”
Asked if he would run in Lagan Valley, Sir Jeffrey said: “Well, that is my intention. I am the Member of Parliament for Lagan Valley, that is the constituency that I represent.
“In the last Assembly elections I think we were about 400 votes shy of winning three seats in Lagan Valley, and we will be setting ourselves a target to win seats in the Assembly elections because it is absolutely crucial for unionism that we win the election.”