The job insecurity with which Paul Givan has been living was reflected in his Twitter biography. He didn’t update it on taking Stormont’s top job three weeks ago, choosing instead to present himself in terms of his past roles there.
It was only yesterday, after Sir Jeffrey Donaldson confirmed he wasn’t moving him, that Givan updated his description to “Northern Ireland First Minister”. He’ll remain in place at least until September. While turning around the DUP’s fortunes falls primarily on Sir Jeffrey’s shoulders, Givan’s role will still be significant.
He must show he can work constructively with other Stormont ministers. Yet the DUP base will also want to see him put clear blue water between their party and Sinn Fein.
The Protocol is the big-ticket issue which will determine the DUP’s fate, but dealing with day-to-day issues at Stormont is still important.
The First Minister recently gave the go-ahead to six major pieces of legislation, including organ donation, climate and justice bills. DUP elements had previously opposed opt-out organ donation, citing libertarian arguments. Unlocking the door to progress was vital as the public must see devolution delivering.
One of Edwin Poots’ closest allies, Givan isn’t short of enemies in the party. But his first few weeks as First Minister were flawless. He kept Sir Jeffrey in the loop on every issue.
The DUP leader’s reshuffle contained no surprises. He was never going to remove Edwin Poots from the agriculture portfolio. Such a vengeful act would not be his style. He has bent over backwards to build bridges with his former rival.
With no change in agriculture, Sir Jeffrey had little choice but to axe Paul Frew. His own supporters would have been dismayed had he kept so many ‘Poots’ people’ around the Executive table.
Gordon Lyons was always set to return to ministerial office. He performed well when he briefly served as Agriculture Minister when Poots was undergoing cancer surgery. He was intensely loyal to both Arlene Foster and Sir Jeffrey, declining Poots’ offer of ministerial office when he was leader.
The East Antrim MLA’s appointment as Economy Minister is also a big gesture towards the constituency’s MP, Sammy Wilson, whose intervention was critical in events leading up to Poots’ resignation.
Michelle McIlveen remaining as Education Minister is no shock. She represents the middle ground in the party, which was key in switching from Poots to Sir Jeffrey. While McIlveen, Givan, and Poots remain at the Executive table, it’s Frew who has emerged as the biggest loser from recent turmoil. How he handles his disappointment will be key. Sir Jeffrey won’t want any more internal difficulties.
The DUP leader had pledged to return to Stormont to “lead from the front”. There are a number of constituencies where co-option is possible. It’s the danger of a Lagan Valley by-election which will preoccupy him more.
Until he moves over for Sir Jeffrey, we’ll see an active First Minister opting for as many outdoor events as possible rather than remaining in a stuffy Stormont setting. We saw him zip-lining at an all-Ireland youth project in Newcastle last week. DUP divisions meant Givan didn’t get off to a flying start in the job, but expect him to keep making the most of it until the adventure ends.