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Paul Givan: why has NI First Minister resigned - and what is DUP stance on Northern Ireland Protocol?

DUP MLA Paul Givan announces his resignation as First Minister for Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Executive will collapse after DUP MLA, Paul Givan, said he will stand down as First Minister for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Given’s resignation means Sinn Fein MLA, Michelle O’Neill, will no longer remain deputy First Minister.

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The collapse of the Executive also means Northern Ireland ministers will no longer be able to exercise their devolved powers.

The announcement comes less than 24 hours after DUP MLA and Agriculture Minister, Edwin Poots, ordered civil servants to stop post-Brexit agri-food checks at Northern Ireland ports.

The checks are still happening despite Mr. Poot’s insistence that he had “legal advice” allowing him to make the unilateral decision.

Mr Poots’ actions are sure to frustrate the European Union, who have already described the incident as “damaging trust” between itself and the EU.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Paul Givan (left) intends to announce his resignation (Photo: Getty)

What caused this crisis?

This latest political crisis stems from the Brexit withdrawal agreement negotiated by both the British government and the European Union in 2019.

The Northern Ireland Protocol resulted in a de facto border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

The agreement also meant Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, would remain inside the European Union’s single market and customs union.

The protocol requires the United Kingdom carry out specific checks on goods moving from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Protocol was the breakthrough negotiated by Boris Johnson and is designed to avoid a land border between Northern Ireland in the UK and the Republic of Ireland in the EU.

The Northern Ireland situation explained: the key points

  • In Northern Ireland 56% of people who voted in the 2016 referendum supported the UK remaining inside the EU.
  • Unlike England, Wales and Scotland, the devolved administration in Northern Ireland operates as a power sharing executive and currently comprises of 12 ministers from five different parties - DUP, Sinn Fein, Alliance, UUP and SDLP.
  • As a result of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive is headed by both a First Minister and deputy First Minister - both positions hold equal influence and power. One cannot exist without the other, which is why Sinn Fein MLA Michelle O’Neill automatically steps down as deputy First Minister.
  • Despite the instruction given to civil servants by DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots to halt post-Brexit agri-food checks at midnight on Wednesday, NationalWorld understands the majority of these checks are still being carried out by civil servants.
  • Northern Ireland is set to go to the polls to elect new MLAs on 5 May.
  • The DUP and many other unionists in Northern Ireland want to see the protocol scrapped because they believe it threatens the constitutional standing of Northern Ireland within the the union that is the United Kingdom.

What’s been said?

The current leader of the DUP, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP, has hinted several times that should his party’s demands concerning the Northern Ireland Protocol not be met he would not hesitate to collapse the power-sharing executive by withdrawing Paul Givan from the position of First Minister.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, MP, told ITV Political Editor Robert Peston on Wednesday evening that the current crisis in Northern Ireland was a matter for the executive to deal with and not Westminster.

Sinn Fein MLA Michelle O’Neill has described the recent actions of the DUP as “unlawful” and accused the party of being “at odds with where the wider community is at”.

Background

The DUP was the only party within the Northern Ireland Executive that actively campaigned in favour of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union in 2016.

Paul Givan;s resignation is not supported by the second largest unionist party, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), however the leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party, Jim Allister, MLA, who does not support power-sharing, welcomed the move.

Mr Allister is the only TUV MLA currently elected to the Assembly.

The collapse of the Executive also means important issues that require the approval of the Northern Ireland Executive such as the three year budget and an apology to victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse may not go ahead in March.

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