Northern Ireland’s DUP ‘a madhouse’ over new first minister

Northern Ireland’s coalition government has a new leader, First Minister Paul Givan — but the move appears to be tearing the Democratic Unionist Party apart.

DUP lawmaker Givan succeeded Arlene Foster in the top power-sharing post Thursday after receiving support in the Northern Ireland Assembly from his close friend and DUP leader Edwin Poots, as well as Irish nationalists on the other side of the chamber.

Yet Givan’s nomination had just been overwhelmingly rejected by his own party, a confusing and unprecedented situation that raises doubts over whether Poots or Givan can survive politically. A move designed to prevent the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly may merely have postponed it.

Poots, who last month became party leader on a 19-17 vote after he led a rebellion against predecessor Arlene Foster, was determined to confirm Givan as first minister. Those present in Thursday’s DUP meeting voted 24-4 against this — but Givan and Poots proceeded regardless.

“The party’s descended into a madhouse. I don’t know where this ends. But this utter contempt for accountability and democracy in our party is simply intolerable. I can’t see this going on for much longer,” said an MP who attended the DUP meeting but who didn’t want to be named.

Poots loyalists initially attempted to bar the party’s own MPs from the meeting, arguing that only the 28 Assembly members were permitted. Beforehand, seven of those eight MPs leaked an email calling on Poots to postpone Givan’s nomination.

Poots and Givan left the meeting even as Sammy Wilson MP was still in mid-flow arguing against their plans.

Later, DUP officials met privately to discuss how to manage their deepening split.

It overshadowed what might otherwise have been a day of progress for power-sharing between British unionists and Irish nationalists. Such cross-community cooperation formed the core of Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord. It has proved increasingly difficult to sustain amid chronic head-butting between the DUP and Sinn Féin. 

Power-sharing faced a Monday deadline to fill the first minister post vacated by Foster. Had the DUP or Sinn Féin blocked the move, the Assembly would have been shut down in favor of resumed “direct rule” from London. Neither party wanted that.

However, Sinn Féin had made its support for Givan’s candidacy conditional on the DUP agreeing to speedy passage of an Irish Language Act to promote Ireland’s native tongue. When Poots refused to budge, Sinn Féin went over his head and struck a deal directly with the British government, infuriating many in the DUP.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis confirmed Thursday that, as part of his midnight agreement with Sinn Féin, the U.K. government will pass an Irish Language Act in London and impose it on Northern Ireland if the DUP-led government in Belfast doesn’t approve it by September.



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