Jeffrey Donaldson

Sir Jeffrey Mark Donaldson (born 7 December 1962) is a British politician, serving as the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in the House of Commons since 2019 and as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Lagan Valley since 1997. He is Northern Ireland's longest-serving current MP.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in the House of Commons
Assumed office
17 December 2019
LeaderArlene Foster
Edwin Poots
Preceded byNigel Dodds
Democratic Unionist Party Chief Whip in the House of Commons
In office
8 May 2015  17 December 2019
LeaderNigel Dodds
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded bySammy Wilson
Junior Minister at the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister
In office
26 February 2008  July 2009
Serving with Gerry Kelly
Preceded byIan Paisley Jr
Succeeded byRobin Newton
Member of the Legislative Assembly
for Lagan Valley
In office
26 November 2003  June 2010
Preceded byPatrick Roche
Succeeded byPaul Givan
Member of Parliament
for Lagan Valley
Assumed office
1 May 1997
Preceded bySir James Molyneaux
Majority6,499 (14.3%)
Personal details
Born (1962-12-07) 7 December 1962 (age 58)
Kilkeel, County Down, Northern Ireland
Political partyDemocratic Unionist Party
Ulster Unionist Party (until 2003)
Eleanor Cousins
(m. 1987)
Alma materCastlereagh College
Military service
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Branch/service British Army
UnitUlster Defence Regiment

A former member of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), Donaldson was elected to the House of Commons for Lagan Valley at the 1997 general election. He represented the same constituency in the Northern Ireland Assembly from 2003 to 2010. Donaldson is best known for his opposition to UUP leader David Trimble during the Northern Ireland peace process, especially from 1998 to 2003.

In 2004, Donaldson defected from the UUP and became a member of the DUP. He served in the Northern Ireland Executive from 2008 to 2009 as a Junior Minister for First Minister Peter Robinson. After Nigel Dodds lost his seat at the 2019 general election, Donaldson he has been the DUP Westminster leader. He was a candidate in the 2021 Democratic Unionist Party leadership election, losing to Edwin Poots.[1]

Early life

Donaldson was born in Kilkeel, County Down, in Northern Ireland. He attended Kilkeel High School then Castlereagh College. He joined the Ulster Unionist Party and the Orange Order as a young man and later worked for the MP Enoch Powell.

Two of Donaldson's cousins were killed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army while serving in the Royal Ulster Constabulary: Sam Donaldson was killed in 1970[2] and Alex Donaldson, a Chief Inspector, died in a mortar attack on a Newry police station in 1985.[3]

He also served with the Kilkeel company of the 3rd Battalion Ulster Defence Regiment (3 UDR), where he rose to the rank of corporal.[4]

Political career

Entering politics

In 1985, following the death of Raymond McCullough, Donaldson was elected in a by-election to the Northern Ireland Assembly to represent South Down. In 1996 he was first placed candidate on the UUP list for the Forum elections, virtually guaranteeing him a seat. This led to his selection in 1997, for the Westminster Parliament where he was elected as a member of parliament (MP) for the Lagan Valley constituency. At that time he was tipped as a potential future leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.[5][6]

Donaldson stated in Richard English's book, Armed Struggle: "A big part of the motivation for me in becoming actively involved in politics was the deep sense of injustice that I felt had been perpetrated against my people and specifically against my family and I wanted to do something about that. And that's why, at the age of 18, I did two things, I joined the Ulster Defence Regiment and I joined the Ulster Unionist Party,[citation needed] because I wanted to pursue, through the forces of the state and the forces of law and order, the IRA and to oppose their campaign. But I also wanted to be involved politically in opposing that campaign as well".[7]

Role in the peace process

In 1998 Donaldson was in the Ulster Unionists' negotiating team for the Good Friday Agreement.[8] However, he walked out of the delegation at the end of the negotiations in protest at some of the arrangements, notably the lack of a link between Sinn Féin's admittance to government and IRA decommissioning.

Dissent in the UUP

Disagreements over the Good Friday Agreement negotiations planted the seeds of discontent between the figurehead of the anti-agreement faction of the UUP (Donaldson) and the pro-agreement party leader (Trimble). Donaldson was not allowed to stand in the 1998 assembly election as a party rule stopped MPs, apart from the leader and deputy leader, from going forward as assembly candidates.

Donaldson engineered several party council meetings in protest against David Trimble's policies. The council, however, backed Trimble's leadership, and on 23 June 2003, along with fellow MPs David Burnside and Martin Smyth, Donaldson resigned the Ulster Unionist whip at Westminster.[9] The MPs remained party members and in November 2003 Donaldson was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly for the UUP.

Following the success of the rival Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in the same Assembly election of 2003, he reiterated his call for Trimble's immediate resignation,[10] but the party continued to back Trimble. On 18 December 2003 Donaldson, Norah Beare MLA and Arlene Foster announced their resignation from the UUP and on 5 January 2004 they announced that they had joined the DUP.

Donaldson as DUP member

Donaldson was returned to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom in the 2005 UK general election and in 2007 was appointed to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, granting him the honorific style of The Right Honourable.[11]

In July 2009, The Daily Telegraph reported that Donaldson had repaid £555 claimed for pay-to-view films in overnight hotel stays. In total, Donaldson submitted claim forms, including receipts, for 68 pay-to-view movies. The newspaper claimed 'hotel sources confirmed that films he put on his expenses during 2004 and 2005 were in the highest price category offered to guests, covering the latest blockbusters and adult movies' although no evidence is offered that he did and Donaldson issued an official statement denying watching any content of an adult or pornographic nature.[12]

Donaldson was appointed to government by First Minister Peter Robinson, and held the position of Junior Minister in the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister from 2008 to 2009. He lost his position as part of the DUP's phasing out of "double jobbing". Following his re-election to the House of Commons in May 2010, Donaldson stood down from the Northern Ireland Assembly, with Paul Givan replacing him.

He was a member of the Public Bill Committee for the Defence Reform Act 2014.[13]

On 3 May 2021, exactly 100 years from when Northern Ireland was effectively established,[14] Donaldson declared his candidacy for the leadership of the DUP to replace Arlene Foster.[15] He was defeated by Edwin Poots MLA.


Donaldson opposed the Good Friday Agreement (GFA).[16] He supported Brexit, but called for the Northern Ireland Protocol agreed between the UK and the EU in December 2020, which establishes a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea separating Northern Ireland from Great Britain, to be reformed or revoked.[16][17] Despite his earlier rejection of the GFA, he stated in January 2021 that the Protocol "actually undermines the Good Friday agreement".[18]

Donaldson has made anti-Catholic comments. In 2009, Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell demanded an apology from Donaldson and a retraction of his claim that Catholics owed allegiance in the first instance to the Pope and the Holy See.[19]

In March 2019, Donaldson was one of 21 MPs who voted against LGBT inclusive sex and relationship education in English schools.[20][21][22] He opposes same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, legalised by the British Government in December 2019.[16]


Donaldson was appointed Knight Bachelor in the 2016 Birthday Honours for political service.[23]

Personal life

Donaldson married Eleanor Mary Elizabeth Cousins on 26 June 1987, with whom he has two daughters.[24]

He is a member of the Orange Order and is a supporter of Scottish football club Rangers.[25]

He is a member of the mainstream Presbyterian Church in Ireland, rather than the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster.[16]


  • Mr Jeffrey Donaldson (before 1997)
  • Mr Jeffrey Donaldson MP (1997–2003)
  • Mr Jeffrey Donaldson MP MLA (2003–2007)
  • The Rt. Hon. Jeffrey Donaldson MP MLA (2007–2010)
  • The Rt. Hon. Jeffrey Donaldson MP (2010–16)
  • The Rt Hon Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP (2016–)


  1. "Sir Jeffrey Donaldson 'enters race' to be DUP leader" via
  2. Toolis, Kevin (25 November 2000). "Kevin Toolis meets Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 18 October 2015. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  3. "About Me – Jeffrey Donaldson MP official site". Archived from the original on 17 December 2005.
  4. "Jeffrey Donaldson MP - Biography | Jeffrey Donaldson".
  5. "RTÉ News". RTÉ.ie. Archived from the original on 21 June 2004. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  6. "Permanent". Permanent Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  7. English, R. (2003) Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA, Oxford University Press, USA, p.373
  8. Fitzgerald, Garret (2 September 1999). "What happened to Good Friday? Garret FitzGerald (London Review of Books)". London Review of Books. pp. 9–10. Archived from the original on 27 April 2009. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  9. "UUP rebels to face discipline" Archived 15 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 26 June 2003.
  10. Kelly, Gary (2 December 2003). "Paisley pledges to play 'positive role' in North". Irish Examiner.
  11. DITM. "Jreffrey Donaldson MP Election Site". Archived from the original on 27 May 2010. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  12. Prince, Rosa; Allen, Nick; Hope, Christopher (4 July 2009). "Telegraph: MPs' expenses: Jeffrey Donaldson repays £555 claimed for pay-to-view films in hotel". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 22 January 2018. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  13. "House of Commons Public Bill Committee on the Defence Reform Bill 2013–14". Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 17 September 2013.
  14. Kearney, Vincent (3 May 2021). "Northern Ireland established 100 years ago today" via Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  15. "Sir Jeffrey Donaldson 'enters race' to be DUP leader" via
  16. Tonge, Jonathan (11 May 2021). "DUP leadership election Q&A: all you need to know as Edwin Poots and Jeffrey Donaldson". The Conversation.
  17. Madden, Andrew (13 January 2021). "Brexit: DUP's Donaldson accuses UK Government of failing to consider impact of Northern Ireland protocol". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  18. McCambridge, Jonathan (14 January 2021). "Sir Jeffrey Donaldson: Post Brexit trade disruption breaches the Good Friday Agreement". The News Letter.
  19. "DUP conflict of interest claim over fealty to pope angers SDLP". Irish Times. 3 March 2009. Archived from the original on 18 November 2011. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  20. "MPS vote for LGBT inclusive sex and relationship education from primary school". 28 March 2019. Archived from the original on 30 March 2019. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  21. "21 MPS who voted against teaching kids about gay families". 28 March 2019. Archived from the original on 30 March 2019. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  22. "Draft Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education (England) Regulations 2019 - CommonsVotes". Archived from the original on 29 March 2019. Retrieved 29 March 2019.
  23. "No. 61608". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 June 2016. p. B2.
  24. "Donaldson, Rt Hon. Sir Jeffrey (Mark), (born 7 Dec. 1962), PC 2007; MP Lagan Valley, since 1997 (UU, 1997–2003, DUP, since 2004)". Who's Who. 2007. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U13906.
  25. "Telegraph – 1997/26/01: RUC may lose final word on Orange Order marches". Archived from the original on 18 March 2005.