Northern Ireland

Paul Givan: Who is Stormont’s new education minister?

The DUP's Paul Givan was appointed education minister in February 2024
The DUP's Paul Givan was appointed education minister in February 2024. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY (PA)

Paul Givan began his career in politics as a part-time assistant in Edwin Poots’ constituency and Stormont offices.

Later a councillor, an MLA and the youngest person to hold the office of First Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mr Givan has risen through the ranks of the DUP.

Joining the DUP to becoming a councillor and an MLA

From Lisburn, Mr Givan was educated at Laurelhill Community College and Ulster University before he was first elected.

From a family steeped in DUP politics, his father Alan, a former prison officer, is a DUP councillor in Lisburn while his grandfather Herbie was one of the party’s first members.

Mr Givan is reported to became involved in politics after hearing the late Mr Paisley Snr speak at an anti-Good Friday Agreement rally in Kilkeel, Co Down.

“He captured me emotionally for the DUP and Peter Robinson’s and Nigel Dodds’ forensic analysis of the failing of the Agreement captured me intellectually”, he told the Belfast Telegraph.

He has been associated with the so-called Paisley wing of the party ever since.

Aged 23, he became a councillor on Lisburn City Council in 2005.

Special adviser to Edwin Poots

From 2007 to 2008, he was a special adviser to Mr Poots when he was minister for the former Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and then again between 2009 and 2010 when he was environment mnister.

The father-of-three was co-opted to the Assembly in 2010, replacing Jeffrey Donaldson, who became an MP.

He served as chairman of the Stormont justice committee for a time.

GAA pitch appearance and Irish Language bursary controversy while communities minister

Appointed communities minister in May 2016, he visited a GAA club in Lisburn to award a grant and played Gaelic football with some child players of the club.

A keen soccer player, Mr Givan said it was the first time he had kicked a Gaelic football.

“I’m used to putting a ball over the bar, but it was good to actually get a point for it this time,” he joked.

Paul Givan's appointment as First Minister means Stormont can operate and rule on increasing attendances for the Ulster Championship
Paul Givan in action during a visit to a GAA club

But during his tenure as communities minister, he proved a divisive figure and became embroiled in several controversies.

He faced criticism for reinstating a grants scheme for marching bands worth £300,000 at a time of cuts in the arts sector.

His actions were later contrasted with his decision to scrap the the Irish language bursary scheme, Líofa, which helped people improve their Irish language skills in the Donegal Gaeltacht.

The department said the programme would not run due to the need to find efficiency savings with the decision announced in an email just before Christmas that year.

It was condemned by the president of Comhaltas Uladh as a “blatant act of discrimination”.

Branded an “ignoramus” by Gerry Adams, Mr Givan later reversed the decision, saying that he did not want Sinn Féin to use it as a “political weapon”.

However, his u-turn was too late.

His time as communities minister also came during the crisis over the botched RHI scheme and also led to criticism when he was photographed lighting a Twelfth bonfire in 2016.

Paul Givan
Paul Givan pictured at at Twelfth bonfire in 2016

The DUP minister was pictured setting stacks of pallets alight to mark the Eleventh Night in south Tyrone.

He defended his actions, saying it did not have any effigies, tricolours or election posters on it.

However, the collapse of Stormont in January 2017 following the resignation of Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness saw his time in the role cut short.

Paul Givan’s ‘conscience clause’ and Private Members Bill

In 2014 he attempted to introduce a “conscience clause” into Northern Ireland’s equality legislation.

It came following the so-called ‘gay cake’ row, in which the Equality Commission took a civil action against Christian-owned bakery Ashers after it refused to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan.

Ashers bakery refused to make a cake bearing the slogan 'Support gay marriage'
Ashers bakery was involved in the so-called ‘gay cake’ row

His Private Members’ Bill aimed to create a legal exemption for strongly held religious belief.

In March 2022, Mr Givan also brought forward a Private Members Bill which sought to amend the law in Northern Ireland to prevent abortions in cases of non-fatal disabilities, including Down Syndrome.

The bill was rejected by MLAS who voted by 45 to 42 to reject the principles of the bill after its consideration stage debate.

First Minister Paul Givan. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
First Minister Paul Givan. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press First Minister Paul Givan. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

How long was Paul Givan Northern Ireland’s First Minister?

At age 39, he was appointed as Northern Ireland’s youngest first minister in June 2021 following an internal DUP revolt.

Mr Poots had resigned after 21 days as DUP leader having lost the support of party colleagues over his decision to agree a deal with Sinn Féin and the UK government.

Former DUP leader Edwin Poots (right) during a press conference at Stormont with First Minister designate Paul Givan after announcing his first ministerial team
Former DUP leader Edwin Poots (right) during a press conference at Stormont with Paul Givan, who was First Minister designate at the time

Mr Poots was replaced as leader by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

But Mr Givan’s time as first minister was short lived, he announced his resignation from the role in February 2022 as part of DUP protests against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He became Northern Ireland’s shortest serving first minister, having spent 231 days in office.

He retained his seat as an MLA for Lagan Valley in the Assembly election in 2022.

Former First Minister Paul Givan and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill pictured in 2021 before the DUP collapsed of the power-sharing executive in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol
Paul Givan, pictured in 2021 with then-Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, before the DUP collapsed of the power-sharing executive in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol

Stormont’s new education minister

Mr Givan was appointed education minister in February 2024 following the decision by the DUP to enter power-sharing again.

He is the third DUP politician to take on the education brief in recent years, following in the footsteps of Michelle McIlveen and Peter Weir.

Taking up the role, his first official visit took him to Rathmore Grammar School in the outskirts of west Belfast where he set out his key priorities for education, which include “ambitious plans to invest in our schools’ estate”.

He said he wanted the “gap to close” between wages for school staff in Northern Ireland and their counterparts in Britain.

In his first ministerial statement in the assembly, he set out plans for capital investment across the education sector. He has also given the green light for new build projects at seven schools.