LONDON (AP) — A 39-year-old lawmaker is set to become Northern Ireland’s youngest first minister, following an internal party revolt that led to the ousting of the leader who played a major role during the Brexit dramas of the past few years.
Paul Givan, who has a reputation as a social and religious conservative, was nominated Tuesday for the top job in the Northern Ireland Assembly by Edwin Poots, the recently elected leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.
The new ministerial team is set to be in place Monday following a formal renomination process. The British government retains an array of powers affecting Northern Ireland, but the Belfast assembly can make laws in a wide range of areas, including agriculture, education and health.
“There is a huge responsibility that comes with this position, particularly in serving the people of Northern Ireland as we come through the COVID pandemic,” Givan said.
Both Givan and Poots, a former communities minister, are in the more conservative wing of the DUP. In February, for example, Poots proposed a new law to prevent abortions from being carried out in Northern Ireland in cases of non-fatal disabilities.
Party divisions came to the fore this year with the effective ousting of First Minister Arlene Foster following weeks of pressure related to her handling of Brexit and her perceived softening on social issues such as abortion and LGBT rights.
Poots won a two-person contest last month to lead the DUP, the senior partner in the Catholic-Protestant power-sharing government in Belfast. He thanked Foster for her “excellent work.”
Poots broke with tradition by deciding to not take up the post of first minister himself. Poots, who will retain his position as agriculture minister, said he wants to concentrate his energy on rebuilding and reforming the DUP following a period of rising discontent and division.
Early indications are that the tensions remain. Outgoing economy minister Diane Dodds said it was “regrettable” that the new team “does not match the rhetoric about healing and bringing the party together.”