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.
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.
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 and Alex Donaldson, a Chief Inspector, died in a mortar attack on a Newry police station in 1985.
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.
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, 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".
Role in the peace process
In 1998 Donaldson was in the Ulster Unionists' negotiating team for the Good Friday Agreement. 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. 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, 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.
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.
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.
On 3 May 2021, exactly 100 years from when Northern Ireland was effectively established, Donaldson declared his candidacy for the leadership of the DUP to replace Arlene Foster. He was defeated by Edwin Poots MLA.
Donaldson opposed the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). 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. Despite his earlier rejection of the GFA, he stated in January 2021 that the Protocol "actually undermines the Good Friday agreement".
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.
In March 2019, Donaldson was one of 21 MPs who voted against LGBT inclusive sex and relationship education in English schools. He opposes same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, legalised by the British Government in December 2019.
- 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–)
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