New Northern Ireland first minister installed amid turmoil in his DUP party

Threat of no confidence vote in party leader Edwin Poots

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 17 June 2021 19:00
<p>Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill outside Parliament Buildings, Belfast, after they were nominated first minister and deputy first minister respectively, on Thursday </p>

Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill outside Parliament Buildings, Belfast, after they were nominated first minister and deputy first minister respectively, on Thursday

A new first minister for Northern Ireland was installed today amid open dissent among his own DUP party over concessions made to Sinn Fein in order to restore power-sharing.

There were threats of a vote of no confidence in DUP leader Edwin Poots, which could bring an abrupt end to Paul Givan’s tenure as the Stormont executive’s youngest ever leader at just 39.

All but one of the unionist party’s MPs and all of its representatives in the House of Lords signed a letter this morning voicing disquiet about a deal brokered late last night to permit the establishment of a new administration in the wake of Arlene Foster’s resignation.

Under the terms of the deal, Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis said the UK government would put legislation protecting the Irish language through Westminster if Stormont fails to make it law by September.

The move cleared the way for Mr Givan to take up the position of first minister, with Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill as deputy first minister, later in the day.

The language issue had threatened to block the restoration of power-sharing, with Sinn Fein making clear it would not nominate Ms O’Neill to her former position unless the DUP agreed to press ahead with legislation which was promised in an earlier agreement but has not yet been delivered.

Mr Lewis hailed the breakthrough as “an important milestone in the delivery of our shared commitments”.

But DUP MPs and peers responded with an email to Mr Poots warning they were “very concerned about this development” and requesting an urgent meeting.

Mr Poots and Mr Givan attended a fractious meeting of DUP MLAs and MPs, but are understood to have left before a vote in which those present voted 24-4 against the decision to nominate a first minister.

The atmosphere at the meeting was described by party sources as “dreadful, utterly dreadful” and “bedlam”. Another said: “The meeting was in total disarray.”

And following Mr Givan’s installation, rumours began to spread of proposals for a vote of no confidence in Mr Poots.

Amid the turmoil, former leader Ms Foster seemingly took delight in trolling the man who forced her out of power, tweeting about her “lovely lunch” at a Belfast restaurant and adding: “Hope everyone is having a great day this lovely sunny afternoon.”

The new leader, who took office less than a month ago after Ms Foster’s 28 May resignation, later arrived at DUP headquarters for a meeting with party officers.

Arriving at the meeting, DUP MP Sammy Wilson did not rule out the possibility of a confidence vote. And asked if Mr Poots would survive it, he replied: “It wouldn’t be a final decision, it would be decision by the executive.

“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?”

Mr Wilson made it clear that Mr Givan’s position would be in doubt if Mr Poots was toppled.

“If Edwin is no longer leader, then whoever did become leader would have the choice of the first minister,” said Mr Wilson. “These are all decisions we have got to make.”

And he added: “The one thing I can tell you is that there is no appetite for a situation where we have an assembly which can have its powers stripped from it by the secretary of state at a whim simply because Sinn Fein demand that they get something that they can’t persuade others in the assembly to deliver for them.”

Party chair Lord Morrow told reporters they would have to “wait and see” whether there would be a vote of no confidence in Mr Poots.

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