Monday, 8 February 2010

Northern Ireland Positioning Carries On

You thought the agreement last Friday to devolve police and justice to a Northern Irish Ministry would be the end of the arguments. Well hold the horses don't be so confident. There is still debate as to who will take up the post.

It had long been assumed that the Alliance Party would be the most acceptable party to hold the post and give the position a degree of neutrality. But the Ulster Unionist and SDLP are upset that this goes against the d'Hondt system of allocating Ministers by proportion of representation in the Assembly.

David Ford the Alliance Party leader has said this evening that his party will not be nominating for the position of Justice Minister. Speaking at Stormont earlier he said:

"The situation is that at the present time we have not seen enough movement around a shared future and around the policies for the Department of Justice for an Alliance nomination to be made. There is plenty of time before April the 12th. I do not think we are in a long dragged out process. But clearly there is still a little bit of work that needs to be done.

"If others wish to engage, then others are entitled to engage. What we are saying is what Alliance believes to be necessary for the job to be done right."

Meanwhile the SDLP who would be next in line under d'Hondt have said that newly elected party leader Margaret Ritchie will not be their nomination. She is currently the only SDLP Minister serving as Minister for Social Development, however they will be nomination lawyer Alban Maginniss as their proposed option. Mrs Ritchie however says that the current approach for the role is a "corruption of democracy". She is looking for clarity on just what was agreed between the DUP and Sinn Féin last week saying:

"We will make our judgement on the Hillsborough arrangement when we know what is on the table and, more importantly, what is under the table.

"If the two parties won't reveal what they have already agreed then we will be pressing the two governments for greater transparency."

The Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness however remained confident that a new Minister for Justice would be in place after the 10 days of talks that lead to his party and Peter Robinson's agreeing a framework to devolve policing and justice and to set up a new independent parades body. He said:

"It will be whatever person can command cross-community support in the assembly.

"At this stage, I think all I can say about it is I'm supremely confident that come 12 April we will have a person nominated who will command cross-community support."

So while a week is often considered a long time in politics we only need a weekend in Northern Ireland to throw a whole different cat amongst the pigeons. So while Alban Maginnis may be qualified for justice being on the Northern Irish and Irish bar, the debate even from Sinn Féin it would appear is that cross-community support is key.

We certainly live in interesting times.

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