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Who is Paul Givan, the North’s probable next first minister?

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Paul Givan and Edwin Poots go way back. These days, they are the DUP’s representatives for Lagan Valley in the Stormont Assembly – and, in Poots’s case, the party’s new leader.

However, they have been part of the same team for roughly 20 years, ever since Givan (39) began working for him as a part-time assistant while a student. Now the partnership is set to conquer the summit of Northern Irish politics.

Givan is widely tipped as the most likely to succeed Arlene Foster as First Minister; illustrated by Poots’s choice to bring him with him to Dublin on Thursday for his meeting with Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

In an interview with BBC Radio Ulster earlier that day, Givan declined to be drawn on his potential promotion, saying instead that the choice of the next First Minister was “a matter for Edwin”.

However, should he be offered the job, he would not say no. “I haven’t asked for anything and I haven’t been asked to do anything at this stage,” the MLA said.

“What I have made clear to Edwin is, if he sees me having a role to be able to serve the party and to serve the country, I’ve never shirked away from taking on that responsibility,” he added.

Certainly his CV bears this out. Givan, who is from Lisburn in Co Antrim, has a degree in business studies from Ulster University and began working for Poots full time in 2003.

The former DUP special adviser Tim Cairns remembers how he stood out “as the most confident, the most clued-in” of all the young graduates in the party at the time – “someone who would probably do well in elected politics”.

So it proved. He was elected to Lisburn City Council in 2005, aged 23, and was Poots’s special adviser when he was minister for culture from 2007-2008 and minister for the environment in 2009-2010.

In 2010 Givan was co-opted into the Assembly, where he has been a committee chairman – most notably of the Justice Committee – and was briefly minister for communities from 2016 until the Assembly collapsed in 2017.

‘Very capable’

His colleague Jim Wells, also an MLA, describes Givan as “very capable … the most capable person we have at the minute who’s not a minister”, who was “always across “a very difficult and technical brief” as chairman of Stormont’s Justice Committee.

Summing him up as “a very clear speaker, good on detail, with a fair bit of experience”, Wells went on: “I’m not remotely surprised he was tipped as first minister. Nobody in the party has any raised eyebrows that his name is in the frame.”

Givan and Poots also share a similar background. Both are members of the Free Presbyterian church with a strong DUP pedigree; Poots’s father was a founder member, as were Givan’s grandfather and great-uncles.

Both of their fathers were targeted during the Troubles. The INLA tried to kill Poots’s father, Charlie, in 1976, while Givan’s father, Alan – a former prison officer in the Maze/Long Kesh and now a DUP councillor – received a hoax letter bomb from the IRA as he was about to leave for the hospital as his wife was about to have their first child.

Givan was inspired to enter politics after hearing Paisley speak at a rally against the Belfast Agreement. “He captured me emotionally for the DUP and Peter Robinson’s and Nigel Dodds’s forensic analysis of the failing of the agreement captured me intellectually,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

Givan is married and has three young daughters. His religious beliefs are central to his identity, he says: “My faith determines my values; it’s intrinsic to who I am. I am a Christian, first and foremost, a husband, a father, a unionist.”

This was evidenced in 2014, when he attempted to introduce a “conscience clause” into Northern Ireland’s equality legislation following the so-called “gay cake” row, in which the Equality Commission took a civil action against a Christian-owned bakery after it refused to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan.

His Private Members’ Bill aimed to create a legal exemption for strongly held religious belief. This in his view would rebalance a law under which “gay rights, and the right to have those rights endorsed and promoted by everyone [were viewed as] more important than the rights of Christians to live according to their conscience,” he said.

This year, he tabled a Private Members’ Bill – the first legislative challenge to the North’s recently introduced abortion laws – which would repeal a clause allowing terminations up to birth in cases of serious non-fatal disabilities.

Sharp and capable

In Stormont he is regarded as sharp and capable and unafraid of robust exchanges in the Assembly, or indeed with ministers – “very capable of battling”, as one senior source put it.

During a Brexit debate September 2020, Givan described the Northern Ireland protocol as “an instrument to punish the people here in Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom” which he said was “being exploited by the European Union and our predatory neighbour in the Irish Republic”.

Responding to Sinn Féin’s Martina Anderson, he said the motion “was all about the all-Ireland agenda that the member spoke about … about the reunification of this island”.

This forthright style may stand him in good stead; he will be aware of the pitfalls of splitting the roles of party leader and First Minister. If appointed he will be conscious of the need to avoid being seen as the junior partner.

Yet his previous ministerial tenure is chiefly remembered for the withdrawal of the Líofa bursary scheme – which allowed young people to attend Irish classes in the Donegal Gaeltacht – in an email just before Christmas 2016.

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

Though the decision was later reversed, by this time the powersharing Assembly had fallen after the resignation of the then deputy first minister, the late Martin McGuinness, who said Givan’s action was partly to blame – a charge Givan rejects, saying the move was “not a political decision”.

Now, the Irish language is a pressure point again, with an Irish-language act agreed as part of the New Decade, New Approach agreement in 2020, but which has been struck since.

“There aren’t many within the DUP who I could say would be a good choice, or that I could say I could prefer one over the other,” says Irish-language activist Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin. “In terms of the Irish language, there isn’t anyone there.”

Though he stresses the choice of First Minister is a matter for the party, “what I would say is they have to honour the commitments made in New Decade, New Approach that the DUP as a party signed up to.”

In the meantime, the wait continues for Poots’s announcement; for the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, judgment must be reserved until the first minister is in office. Yet of Givan he says: “He may be somebody who we can do business with.”

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Census 2022 – what difference does it make?

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Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.

But what it is it all about?

At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.

The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.

Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.

Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.

And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.

In this episode of In The News, the head of census administration Eileen Murphy and statistician Kevin Cunningham about what it all means for us.

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Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture

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Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.

At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.

During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.

When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”

He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.

The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.



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House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022

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House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.

Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.

The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.

Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.

Price

This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.

MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.

“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.

“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.

Soure: MyHome.ie

“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.

“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.

He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.

Homes

Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.

Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.

“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”


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