Showdown expected over installation of new DUP First Minister

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Irish language activists are piling pressure on Sinn Féin not to proceed with the confirmation of the DUP nominee for First Minister, Paul Givan, until an unstoppable process is set in train for legislation to protect the rights of Irish speakers.

Sinn Féin has the power to prevent the elevation of Givan in what would be a strong rebuke to DUP bigotry and intransigence, but the move could collapse Stormont and force an election.

Despite fresh question marks over the credibility of the Six County institutions and the sincerity of the new DUP leadership, neither Sinn Féin nor the DUP are keen to take the blame for a Stormont collapse at a critical juncture on Brexit and Covid, and ahead of a potentially difficult Protestant marching season.

But the new power-sharing Executive may be doomed to fail in any event. As ‘Minister for Communities’ for eight months, Givan notoriously blocked Irish language funding after endorsing and funding provocative anti-Catholic parades and menacing ‘Eleventh Night’ loyalist bonfires.

A Free Presbyterian, a creationist and a staunch social conservative from the Paisleyite wing of the party, his father Alan was a former Long Kesh screw.

For years an aide and advisor to the new DUP leader Edwin Poots, Mr Givan is also fond of quoting Bible scripture as policy.

He is one of several ultra-hardline Ministers appointed by Poots in a wholesale clear-out of his internal political opponents from their Ministerial posts.

That has sharply escalated the rift within the party following the convulsive internal heave to oust Arlene Foster as party leader in April.

Two DUP councillors, a former Westminster election candidate, and members of the South Down association have resigned, while former MP Emma Little-Pengelly also said she had “stepped back” from politics in response to Foster’s ouster.

The formal resignation of Mrs Foster following Friday’s British-Irish Council meeting is expected to trigger a week of intensive negotiations over Irish language legislation and other commitments in last year’s ‘New Decade New Approach’ deal.

But reports of unambitious plans for an Autumn timetable for the delivery of language commitments will disappoint Irish language campaigners. Adding to the pressure was a High Court ruling on Friday allowing a judicial review of the failure of the Stormont administration thus far to implement a strategy for the language.

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill said she was ready “to do business” with the DUP but she wanted “more than fluffy words” from Poots on his commitment to deliver legislation.

Responding to Ms O’Neill, incoming DUP Economy Minister Paul Frew said the deputy first minister needed to “sit down” with the DUP to deliver a wide range of social and economic goals.

“Think about the waiting lists, the economic struggles we’re having - police numbers even, that’s all contained. Let’s get it all out and get a delivery plan,” he said.

However, the comments had more than a hint of a pre-election soundbite, and they were echoed by his party leader.

“I can’t see why it wouldn’t be straightforward,” Poots said. “Because the issues that the public are talking about, in particular the health service, recovery from Covid-19, waiting times in our hospitals of 335,000 - there’s a job to be done. We’ve all got a job to do.”

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