Two outgoing DUP ministers have criticised Edwin Poots’ choice of Stormont appointments as showing a lack of “healing” within the party.
The successors to Economy Minister Diane Dodds and Education Minister Peter Weir were announced on Tuesday.
Mrs Dodds said it was “regrettable” the new team did “not match the rhetoric about healing and bringing the party together”.
Her post on Twitter was retweeted by former leader Arlene Foster.
MPs Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who was defeated in a leadership contest by Mr Poots last month, and Gavin Robinson also retweeted the post.
A number of DUP members have quit over concerns about the party’s direction since Mr Poots’ election.
In a second tweet, Mrs Dodds said unionism could only grow “if it is generous, inclusive and encourages as many pro-Union voters to the cause as possible”.
“I will continue in my efforts to safeguard the Union and make Northern Ireland the best place to live, work and invest,” she added.
Mr Weir said there had been “some great appointments” but that he was “disappointed to leave education”.
He added: “In the balance of appointments it is sad there is little sign of healing or reaching out.”
Responding to Mrs Dodds’ comments, Mr Poots said he accepted that she “probably isn’t in the best place today”.
“I have been in that circumstance twice before where I’ve been a minister and I’ve been asked to step aside for others. And therefore that is a natural reaction,” he said.
However, he added that it was “inaccurate” to say his team was only made up of his supporters.
“This team includes people who didn’t vote for me, who did vote for me and who didn’t declare their intentions,” he said.
Mr Poots also rejected allegations made by some resigning DUP members that there had been bullying and intimidation from members of his camp during the leadership contest.
He said the DUP was “a party that will reach out to people and I, as a leader, am not someone who is either scary or bullying – I want to nail that absolutely and factually”.
“If anybody wants to bring forward facts, they will be investigated, and they will be investigated fairly,” he said.
On Tuesday, Mr Poots announced his new ministerial team would be:
The appointments will come into effect on Monday, allowing Mrs Foster to host the British-Irish Council meeting in County Fermanagh on Friday.
It comes after Mr Poots admitted party members “have been bruised” over its leadership election.
Speaking to BBC NI’s Spotlight, which is to be broadcast on Tuesday night, he described the resignations of a number of party members as “peripheral, but nonetheless I don’t want to lose anybody from the party”.
He also said the party could take “a little time to heal” and that he did not believe there had been attempts to sabotage his leadership.
His comments came after the resignation of DUP councillors Glyn Hanna and Kathryn Owen, along with others in the party’s South Down association.
Mr Hanna said there was a “culture of fear” in the party and claimed he witnessed “bullying” at last month’s meeting of the DUP executive, during which Mr Poots’ election as DUP leader was ratified by party members.
He alleged that people who had put their hands up at the meeting in support of a secret ballot on the leadership were told to put them down.
That claim was backed up by party member Roberta McNally, who was also at the DUP executive meeting and has also resigned.
The vote to hold a secret ballot was defeated, but DUP deputy leader Paula Bradley, who was ratified that night along with Mr Poots, has said a secret ballot should have been held to affirm Mr Poots’ leadership.
All key positions on the front bench and back bench in terms of ministers and assembly committees have been filled.
The Poots team has indicated today that these changes will not take effect until next week at the earliest. That is to allow Arlene Foster to remain as first minister until she attends the British-Irish Council meeting on Friday.
Adopting this tactic of announcing his new team, but saying they won’t take up their positions immediately, allows a period of time to allow Mrs Foster to see out her days as first minister.
We may well see Mrs Foster tendering her resignation on Monday, which then would allow Team Poots to move in and put his people on the benches on Monday evening, or perhaps Tuesday.
But who knows? Predicting the DUP over the course of the past five weeks has been a bit of a lottery.
Mr Poots said he did not accept that there is a problem of misogyny in the party.
“I have personally only ever been respectful to all of the women in our party, and encouraged them. Politics is a very hostile place, and a lot of women don’t like that level of hostility,” Mr Poots said.
“It is for us to ensure that we can make our arguments strongly, but also respectfully.”
Mr Poots said the personal abuse he receives – and Arlene Foster has received – as a politician is “massive”.
The vote to make Mr Poots leader and Ms Bradley deputy leader came amid anger from within the party about how Arlene Foster was ousted.
But Ms Bradley said there was no “purge” taking place in the party.
Spotlight is on BBC One NI at 22:45 BST on Tuesday.