Paul Givan on course to become youngest ever First Minister

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The announcement that Paul Givan is to be the DUP’s nomination to become the next First Minister has finally confirmed the worst-kept secret in Northern Ireland politics.

There had been speculation for several weeks that the Lagan Valley MLA, one of the key lieutenants of the new party leader Edwin Poots, would likely be asked to take on the role.

When Mr Poots made his first visit as DUP leader to Dublin last week for a meeting with Taoiseach Micheal Martin, it was Mr Givan that he chose to accompany him on the trip.

Edwin Poots and Paul Givan
Paul Givan and DUP leader Edwin Poots are close political allies (Liam McBurney/PA)

It is understood that he had some reservations about taking on the top job, conscious of the impact on his young family and believing that it may have come along too early in his career.

Despite this, he had repeatedly made clear that he would take on any role that was offered to him by the new party leader.

Edwin Poots and Paul Givan have a long association. Both represent the Lagan Valley constituency which includes Lisburn. The younger man’s first taste of politics came when working as a part-time assistant in Mr Poots’ constituency and Stormont offices.

Mr Givan was co-opted in 2010 as an MLA at Stormont, replacing the MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who gave up his Stormont position to concentrate on Westminster.

Ironically, it was Sir Jeffrey who was later to run against Mr Poots in the DUP leadership battle which has opened splits in the party and led to a number of resignations.

Mr Givan has made controversial decisions in the past. In 2016, when serving as Communities Minister, he withdrew funding for an Irish language bursary scheme.

Edwin Poots meets Micheal Martin
Paul Givan accompanied Edwin Poots during a visit to Dublin last week (Brian Lawless/PA)

The email informing employees of the decision was signed off “Happy Christmas and Happy New Year” and led to Mr Givan being branded an “ignoramus” by then Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

The row occurred just days before Martin McGuinness resigned at the height of the botched RHI scheme controversy. Devolution remained suspended for three years.

However, Mr Givan has also shown he has the ability to reach out to the nationalist community. Earlier in 2016 he visited a GAA club in Lisburn and was photographed kicking a gaelic football.

His ability to co-operate with his political opponents is likely to be further tested in the future. While Sinn Fein can still block his appointment, if he does take on the First Minister position, he will have to work closely alongside Michelle O’Neill.

The First Minister and deputy First Minister are the joint heads of the Northern Ireland Executive and undertake a number of dual responsibilities, including photoshoots and press conferences.

Mr Givan has gained a reputation as one of the more socially conservative DUP members. In February of this year he proposed a private member’s bill at Stormont, proposing a new law to prevent abortions being carried out in Northern Ireland in cases of non-fatal disabilities.

Abortion laws in the region were liberalised last year following legislation passed at Westminster. Mr Givan’s bill represented the first attempt since devolution was restored to roll back the laws.

He said: “This is an opportunity for people to come together and fight a prejudicial, discriminatory piece of legislation.”

When Mr Givan was revealed as his party’s nomination for First Minister at Stormont on Tuesday, he referred to his party predecessors who had held the post, Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster, as “giants of unionism”.

If there is a smooth transition of power next week and he follows in their footsteps, he will become Northern Ireland’s youngest ever First Minister.

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