Northern Ireland news

Paul Givan's resignation sees DUP Free Presbyterian MLAs drop to single figures

DUP First Minister Paul Givan

PAUL Givan's resignation from the Free Presbyterian Church means the number of DUP MLAs who are full members of the denomination is now in single figures.

As revealed by The Irish News yesterday, the first minister recently quit the Free Presbyterian Church in a dispute over last month's centenary service in Armagh.

Mr Givan is understood to have resigned rather than face disciplinary action overseen by church elders.

The Lagan Valley was asked about the report of his resignation yesterday on BBC Radio Ulster.

He said it was a private matter and not an issue he wished to make public commentary about.

Mr Givan said it was "something I've worked through within my own church".

He said it was "appropriate as first minister" for him to attend October's church service.

The Free Presbyterian Church has previously issued guidance to its members warning of disciplinary action for those who take part in ecumenical services.

Ahead of the centenary service at St Patrick's Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh, the church issued a statement saying the event was "deliberately planned to promote the unbiblical ethos of religious ecumenism".

The statement said the interdenominational service organised by the leaders of Ireland's main churches did "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. Its dogmas concerning, among other things, the Mass and Mariolatry, are unscriptural and therefore heretical," the statement said.

The Irish News understands that the first minister's resignation means less than ten DUP MLAs are now full members of the Free Presbyterian Church.

It is understood that just one-third of the 28 DUP assembly members elected in 2017 are so-called communicant members.

Professor Jon Tonge, author of DUP: From Protest to Power said the church's influence on the DUP was "steadily diminishing" and that that process had accelerated at two critical points – 1998's Good Friday Agreement, when DUP ministers took seats in the executive, and in 2006 when the party agreed to share power with Sinn Féin.

The University of Liverpool academic said the fundamentalist church founded by the late Rev Ian Paisley still had a "massively disproportionate" influence on the DUP but that the number of elected representatives who were members of the denomination was declining.

"In many ways splits like this are inevitable because political parties need to evolve and change in order to gain power, whereas the Free Presbyterian Church remains a rigid and uncompromising," he said.

"This is a religious action replay of the what happened with Ian Paisley, who after going into government with Sinn Féin was forced out of the church he established decades earlier."

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