Charged with Sexual Offenses, Influential Politician in Northern Ireland Steps Down

Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and one of Northern Ireland’s most prominent and influential politicians, resigned his leadership of the party on Friday, after being charged with “historical” sex offenses.

The resignation, which sent shock waves through Northern Irish politics, was announced in a statement from the D.U.P. which said it was also suspending Mr. Donaldson as a party member pending a judicial process.

The party said that it had received a letter from Mr. Donaldson “confirming that he has been charged with allegations of an historical nature and indicating that he is stepping down as leader.”

Earlier on Friday the Police Service of Northern Ireland said that it had “charged a 61-year-old man for non-recent sexual offenses.” It added that “a 57-year-old woman was also arrested and charged at the time for aiding and abetting additional offenses.”

In line with British police practice, the statement did not provide the identities of those charge, but said both of those charged would appear in a magistrates court on April 24.

Mr. Donaldson’s social media accounts, including his profiles on X, LinkedIn and Instagram, appeared to have been deleted on Friday morning.

The D.U.P., whose members are mainly Protestant, wants to keep Northern Ireland part of the United Kingdom, and Mr. Donaldson is a member of the British Parliament in London.

Once seen as a hard liner, he opposed the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland after decades of bloody sectarian violence known as the “Troubles.”

But earlier this year, after two years of political gridlock in Northern Ireland, he helped negotiate and promote a deal that restored the government and that, for the first time, gave the job of first minister to a member of Sinn Fein party, which represents mainly Roman Catholic voters and campaigns for a united Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s assembly, known as Stormont, can only function with the support of the biggest parties from across the sectarian divide, requiring the participation of both Sinn Fein, and the D.U.P. The D.U.P. walked out in 2022 in protest of post-Brexit trade arrangements, causing the collapse of power-sharing.

When the assembly was restored in February, Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Fein secured the top job because her party had come first in the last Northern Irish elections, and the D.U.P., which won fewer votes, had to settle for the deputy first minister job. Although the two posts have equivalent powers, it was a significant moment in Northern Ireland.

In theory, Mr. Donaldson’s departure should not impact the running of the Northern Ireland Assembly, known as Stormont, of which he is not a member.

However, he was seen as an architect and strong supporter of the deal to share power with Sinn Fein, which caused deep divisions within the ranks of the D.U.P., a significant number of whose members opposed rejoining the power sharing assembly.

In its statement the D.U.P said party officers had unanimously appointed Gavin Robinson as interim leader following the resignation.

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