Northern Ireland news

DUP silent on claims Paul Givan has quit Free Presbyterian Church over ecumenical row

It has been claimed that Paul Givan has quit the Free Presbyterian Church in a row over the centenary service in Armagh. Picture by Hugh Russell

A FORMER prominent member of the DUP has claimed Paul Givan has quit the Free Presbyterian Church in a dispute over last month's centenary service in Armagh.

Retired minister Ivan Foster, who split from the DUP over the decision to share power with Sinn Féin, claims the first minister resigned after being spoken to by the church's elders.

The DUP was last night remaining silent on the controversial claim, which has echoes of a schism between former leader Ian Paisley and senior Free Presbyterians, which ultimately saw the party figurehead break ties with the church he founded.

Mr Foster's claim was contained in an email he circulated to a number of news organisations. The former high-profile DUP councillor yesterday declined to comment further on the matter.

"I have been told by a minster that as far as he knows Mr Given 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," his email said.

"I am very thankful and heartened if it is so that the elders in this case acted, but saddened that Mr Givan chose to resign rather than humble himself and amend his ways and obey to God’s word. He is thus putting the politics of compromise and rebellion against God before honouring the One he professes to serve."

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

He has been a DUP councillor on Omagh District Council and won a seat in the Northern Ireland assembly elections of 1982 for the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency.

Mr Foster was also one of the founders of Ulster Resistance in the mid-1980s. The military style organisation pledged to fight against republicanism.

Historically, the Free Presbyterian Church has been stridently opposed to ecumenicalism.

Ahead of the October 21 inter-denominational service at Armagh Cathedral, its current 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.

The centenary service became mired in controversy when President of Ireland Michael D Higgins declined an invitation to attend on the basis that the event had become politicised.

Queen Elizabeth was also supposed to attend the service but didn't travel on health grounds.

President Higgins was critical of the title of the event – 'Service of Reflection and Hope, to mark the Centenary of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland'.

On the day of the service, the president fulfilled a previously arranged engagement hosting the Statistical and Social Inquiry Association of Ireland at Aras an Uachtaráin in Dublin.

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