Future of new First Minister Paul Givan remains unclear after day of political turmoil
Freya McClements, Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times
Edwin Poots quit as DUP leader on Thursday night after losing the support of his party less than five weeks after he was elected to replace Arlene Foster.
In a statement Mr Poots said he had asked the party chairman “to commence an electoral process within the party to allow for a new leader of the Democratic Unionist Party to be elected”.
“The party has asked me to remain in post until my successor is elected,” he said. “This has been a difficult period for the party and the country, and I have conveyed to the chairman my determination to do everything I can to ensure both unionism and Northern Ireland is able to move forward to a stronger place.”
It is not clear what the consequences may be for Paul Givan, his close ally who he nominated as Northern Ireland’s First Minister on Thursday afternoon.
Mr Poots was narrowly elected as DUP leader on May 14th following the party’s first ever leadership election. He was ratified following a turbulent meeting of the party’s executive on May 27th. He was the shortest-serving DUP leader ever, officially lasting only 21 days in office.
Mr Poots made his announcement shortly after leaving a meeting of party officials at the DUP’s headquarters in east Belfast which lasted around four hours.
He did not respond to questions from waiting media on the way out, saying only, “hello, how are you?”
Belfast, where all politics is most certainly local. Picture by Bill Heaney
Earlier he faced an internal revolt from his party over the timing of his nomination of Mr Givan as the North’s First Minister.
The UK government agreed to step in and legislate for Irish language and other cultural provisions agreed in the 2020 New Decade, New Approach deal in October if Stormont failed to do so by then, satisfying demands from Sinn Féin and four other Northern parties.
Sinn Féin announced it would proceed with the nomination of a the Deputy First Minister, and Mr Poots on Thursday morning said he intended to nominate Mr Givan “at the earliest opportunity”.
However, he faced an internal revolt from peers and seven out of the party’s eight MPs, who wrote to him expressing their concern. They asked him to wait and “explain the basis of your agreement” to nominate a First Minister before taking any further steps.
At a bruising meeting held shortly afterwards, at least 20 of the party’s Assembly members voted against the nomination going ahead. It is understood Mr Poots and Mr Givan were not present for the vote as they had already left to go to the Assembly chamber for the nomination process.
“To pursue it when the majority of MLAs were against it, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” a senior DUP source told The Irish Times. “I’m dumbfounded.”
When arriving at the meeting of party officials on Thursday evening, DUP MP Sammy Wilson told reporters that any leader who did not have the support of party officers would “find it very difficult” to stay in their position.
“I think that any leader who doesn’t have the confidence of party officers and didn’t have the confidence of their Assembly group and their MPs will find it very difficult to stay in their position. You cannot lead people who are not following you. If you have no followers, you can’t be a leader, can you?”
Following the nomination process in the Assembly, Mr Givan and Michelle O’Neill took the pledge of office and were appointed as the North’s First and Deputy First Ministers.
The party added that there were “monumental challenges ahead that will require unity of purpose and urgency … that is our focus and should remain the focus of all ministers in the Executive”.
Mr Givan was due to attend a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in Armagh today, in his first official engagement in the role, but the gathering was last night cancelled.
“Given political developments in Northern Ireland today, tomorrow’s NSMC Plenary meeting has been postponed at the request of the Northern side,” the Government said in a statement.