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First Minister Paul Givan won’t deny he has resigned from Free Presbyterian Church after NI centenary event dispute

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Welcome: First Minister Paul Givan greets Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney at the centenary event last month. Credit: Kelvin Boyes/Presseye

Welcome: First Minister Paul Givan greets Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney at the centenary event last month. Credit: Kelvin Boyes/Presseye

Former Free Presbyterian minister and DUP councillor Ivan Foster

Former Free Presbyterian minister and DUP councillor Ivan Foster

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Welcome: First Minister Paul Givan greets Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney at the centenary event last month. Credit: Kelvin Boyes/Presseye

DUP First Minister Paul Givan has declined to deny reports that he has resigned from the Free Presbyterian Church.

A retired leading minister from the church and former prominent member of the DUP said he had been made aware that the Lagan Valley MLA has left in a dispute over last month’s cross-community Northern Ireland centenary service in Armagh.

Rev Ivan Foster, who split from the DUP over the decision to share power with Sinn Fein, said he had been made aware the First Minister had resigned after being spoken to by the church’s elders in Lisburn.

Mr Givan was criticised by the church for his attendance at the ecumenical service held in Armagh to mark the formation of Northern Ireland.

But Mr Givan said it was “an issue that I don’t intend to make public commentary about”.

While the DUP has not commented, saying the matter is a private one for Mr Givan, his resignation signals that ongoing tensions between unionist political leadership and the Free Presbyterian Church show no signs of healing, though Mr Givan could still attend the church as a non-member.

The Free Presbyterian Church said it was unaware of the situation, and it would be a matter for Mr Givan’s own session to deal with.

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“This is a private matter,” said Mr Givan, speaking on BBC Radio Ulster.

“It is something I have worked through with my own church.

“This for me is an issue where first and foremost I regard the Gospel as being of fundamental importance.

“My own personal circumstances are secondary to that.

“I would never want to say anything in a public way which would diminish that Gospel witness. That’s why I don’t intend to make any further public commentary around this particular issue.”

Mr Givan had been criticised by some within the church for his attendance at the centenary event in Armagh, but stood by his decision to attend. “When the invitation came in it was obviously something I considered and I took the view that it was appropriate for me as First Minister to attend that event. I subsequently did attend that event.”

When contacted by the Belfast Telegraph, Rev Foster said he stood by his claim.

“I have been told by a minster that as far as he knows Mr Givan was spoken to by his session about his attendance at the ecumenical service in Armagh and he has since resigned his membership of the Free Presbyterian Church,” Mr Foster said.

He added that he was “thankful and heartened if it is so that the elders in this case acted”.

Mr Foster has a long association with the Free Presbyterian Church in Fermanagh and Tyrone after being ordained a minister in 1968.

A row between former DUP and church leader Ian Paisley and senior Free Presbyterians, ultimately saw the unionist figurehead break ties with the church he founded.

Mr Foster’s comments demonstrate the growing uneasiness within the Free Presbyterian Church over the links to the DUP.

In 2018 South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford was rebuked by his own minister for his attendance alongside then DUP leader Arlene Foster at the Ulster GAA Final.

Further questions were raised over the DUP’s selection of its first openly gay councillor when Alison Bennington took a seat on Antrim, Newtownabbey Council.

Mrs Foster’s abstention in an Assembly vote on gay conversion therapy further agitated religious sections of the party’s grassroots and Mrs Foster was ousted as party leader just a few days later.

Mr Foster has been a DUP councillor on Omagh District Council and won a seat in the Assembly elections of 1982 in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

He was also one of the founders of Ulster Resistance in the mid-1980s.

Ahead of the October 21 inter-denominational service to mark Northern Ireland’s centenary at Armagh Cathedral, current Free Presbyterian moderator Rev John Armstrong described the event as “arranged to promote the purposes of unscriptural ecumenism”.

“Such ecumenical union does not represent the views of thousands of Ulster Protestants who do not accept the Roman Catholic Church as a Christian Church. Our opposition to fellowship with Roman Catholicism is theological,” he said.


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