By Amanda Ferguson
BELFAST -Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) nominated social conservative Paul Givan on Tuesday to replace Arlene Foster as the British region’s First Minister.
Givan, 39, is a close ally of new DUP leader Edwin Poots. He will need to secure the consent of the party’s main partners in the region’s power-sharing government, Irish nationalist rivals Sinn Fein, to take the post.
Sinn Fein has said the new DUP leadership must make progress on introducing legislation on the role of the Irish language. Givan’s decision, when he was minister for communities, to cut Irish language funding was blamed by Sinn Fein for the collapse of the previous administration four years ago.
Poots told reporters the DUP had assured its government partners that it is committed to introducing the legislation. He said he saw no reason why Givan’s confirmation should not be straightforward.
The nomination follows anger among pro-British unionists about the impact of post-Brexit trade rules on Northern Ireland which helped fuel riots in early April.
The British government and the European Commission, the European Union’s executive, are holding talks to try to defuse the dispute by easing trade frictions.
Givan would be the fifth person to hold the post of First Minister since the establishment of power-sharing under a 1998 peace deal.
That deal ended three decades of violence between Irish nationalist militants, who wanted the region to unite with the Republic of Ireland, and the British Army and pro-British loyalists defending its place within the United Kingdom.
Givan, who served Poots in the past as both assistant and special adviser, was responsible for a proposed law that would have allowed businesses to refuse services to a customer if they felt it contradicted their religious convictions.
Foster announced in April that she would step down as First Minister at the end of June, bowing to pressure from DUP members unhappy at her leadership over Brexit and social issues.
She held both the position of party leader and First Minister but Poots said he wanted to split the role so he could focus on party matters.
A divisive leadership election won by Poots in May has led to the resignations of some local DUP councilors. Two ministers dropped by Poots, Peter Weir and Diane Dodds, criticised the ministerial appointments as failing to heal the rifts.