Media reports say the charges against the Democratic Unionist Party head relate to ‘non-recent sexual offences’.

The leader of Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party, Jeffrey Donaldson, has resigned after confirming he has been charged with “allegations of an historical nature”, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) says.

“In accordance with the party rules, the party officers have suspended Mr Donaldson from membership, pending the outcome of a judicial process,” a DUP statement said on Friday.

The statement added that party officers had unanimously appointed Gavin Robinson, another DUP lawmaker in the United Kingdom’s parliament, as interim party leader.

While the DUP has not specified the reason behind the 61-year-old’s resignation, numerous media outlets reported that Donaldson stepping down from his position was linked to a statement by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) reporting two arrests.

“A 61-year-old man has been charged in relation to non-recent sexual offences,” said a PSNI statement.

“A 57-year-old woman was also arrested and charged at the time for aiding and abetting additional offences.

“Both are due to appear before Newry Magistrates’ Court on 24 April,” it added.

British police generally do not identify suspects by name.

Meanwhile, all of Donaldson’s social media accounts appeared to have been deleted on Friday, with his handle on the social network X showing the message “This account doesn’t exist”.

‘Serious offences’

His resignation comes amid a tumultuous period for the DUP as the party tries to chart out its relations with the UK, which is expected to hold general elections later this year.

Last month, Donaldson brokered a deal with the UK government that enabled the end of the DUP’s two-year boycott of the British region’s devolved power-sharing assembly at Stormont and had also been expected to lead his party into the next UK general election.

Donaldson, is one of the British region’s best-known politicians and is Northern Ireland’s longest-serving lawmaker in the British parliament, to which he was first elected in 1997. He is also a former member of the Northern Irish Assembly.

However, as a member of the London parliament, he does not hold a position in the Northern Irish power-sharing government, a key part of the region’s 1998 peace settlement that only resumed last month following a two-year suspension.

After Donaldson’s sudden resignation, Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the power-sharing government was focused on delivering its policy initiatives.

“My priority is to continue to provide the leadership the public expect and deserve, and to ensure the four-party executive coalition delivers for the whole of our community now and in the future,” said O’Neill, whose Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein is obliged to share power with the DUP.

“The DUP leader has resigned after being charged with serious offences. This is now a matter for the criminal justice system.”

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