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DUP's Paul Givan installed as new First Minister despite opposition by party members at 'shambles' meeting

Poots said he was nominating Givan without “a precondition from Sinn Féin”.

New First Minister for Northern Ireland Paul Givan
New First Minister for Northern Ireland Paul Givan
Image: NIAssembly.tv

Updated Jun 17th 2021, 2:39 PM

PAUL GIVAN of the DUP has been installed as new First Minister of Northern Ireland with Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill to continue in the role of Deputy First Minister. 

Both were nominated in the Stormont Assembly this afternoon and both accepted the nominations, meanting that the Northern Ireland Executive is to continue. 

There is however significant division with the DUP about the decision by party leader Edwin Poots to nominate for the position of First Minister. 

The nominations to the two posts come after last night’s post-midnight move by the UK government to commit to passing Irish language laws in the autumn if this did not take place in the Stormont Assembly. 

Sinn Féin had made the moving of an Irish Language Act a red line before it would nominate for the role of Deputy First Minister. 

A commitment to implement legislation for the Irish language and Ulster Scots was made as part of the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) deal that restored power-sharing in 2020. Little movement has been made on that commitment since then. 

Following last night’s deal, it is understood that a significant majority of both DUP MLAs and MPs voted in an internal party meeting this morning against Poots’ decision to nominate a Stormont First Minister.

The internal vote was taken after a heated party meeting at Parliament Buildings ahead of the nomination process in the Assembly, with Poots and Givan leaving the room before the vote took place.

Earlier, some senior DUP MPs and peers in the House of Lords  had written to party leader Edwin Poots expressing concern and urging him not to nominate a First Minister until he consults with them.

In total seven of the DUP’s eight MPs signed the email, with Ian Paisley being the exception. The party’s five peers have also signed.

In the letter, the signatories said they were “very concerned” about last night’s development in relation to the Irish Language Act and asked Poots to meet with them “before any further steps are taken in this process, including the nomination of a First Minister. “ 

Despite this opposition, Poots this afternoon nominated his constituency colleague Givan for the role of First Minister saying that he has “mentored” Givan for over 20 years. 

Poots said he was nominating Givan “not with a precondition from Sinn Féin but with a brand of confident unionism.”

Givan then accepted the nomination, saying that he thanked “Edwin for his confidence in me.”

“Our paths crossed 25 years ago. He is not just a colleague but a personal friend,” Givan said.

At the age of 23 when I became the youngest councillor, who thought that I would end up at this stage today as Northern Ireland First Minister?

Sinn Féin’s Finance Minister Conor Murphy nominated O’Neill to continue in her role as Deputy First Minister. 

PastedImage-91338 Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill. Source: https://niassembly.tv/

O’Neill thanked all those who’ve worked with the Assembly in the past 17 months during the Covid-19 pandemic and said that this remains its first priority. 

“Our top priority as an executive is our response to Covid-19, ensuring the continued successful rollout of our vaccination programme right across the population and also rebuilding our economy to sustain jobs on people’s livelihoods,” she said. 

The SDLP’s Nichola Mallon said her party welcomes “that a crisis has been averted” but added that “no party has a right to choose which commitment from New Decade, New Approach will be or will not be honoured”. 

“Neither is it good or responsible devolved government to run for the British government every time the DUP and Sinn Fein fail to implement what has previously been agreed,” she said.   

The decision by Poots to nominate Givan following last night’s agreement on an Irish Language Act was described by Jim Allister MLA of the Traditional Unionist Voice as “a victory for ransom politics”. 

“It is a day of indisputable victory for Sinn Féin, it is a day of shame and humiliation for the DUP,” he said. 

DUP meeting

Following the heated DUP party meeting, one senior party source at the meeting described the atmosphere to PA as: 

“Dreadful. Utterly dreadful. Never experienced the like of it.”

Another described it as “total shambles”.

Party MPs had been invited to participate in a separate virtual briefing by Poots at 11.30am but it is understood three of them – Jeffrey Donaldson, Gavin Robinson and Sammy Wilson – turned up to the MLA meeting in the members’ dining room at 11.15 am without being formally invited.

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Irish government reaction

Today, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he “welcomed the agreement” that was made to reappoint Michelle O’Neill as Deputy First Minister and appoint Paul Givan as First Minister, “co-equal and joint heads of the administration in Northern Ireland”.

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions this afternoon, Varadkar said that Givan and O’Neill are “joint leaders of that administration in the North and should be treated as such”.

“I look forward to meeting them both on Friday should the NMSC [North South Ministerial Council] go ahead,” he said.

The Tánaiste said that he wanted to “welcome the fact that we have agreement on an Irish Language Act going ahead as well as increased legal protections and rights for Ulster Scots speakers”.

“This should not threaten anyone’s identity. It’s supported by the majority of parties and the majority of people in Northern Ireland. There’s a Welsh Act in Wales and Scottish Language Act in Scotland, Irish Language Act here, and it has been a long time coming,” he said.

“I look forward to seeing everyone honour their commitments in regard to language rights and language legislation within the next year.”

 - With reporting by the PA news agency and Lauren Boland.

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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