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Alliance coy on whether it would reprise Justice role

By Noel McAdam

Published 20/04/2016

Alliance leader David Ford and Naomi Long during their manifesto launch at the Park Avenue Hotel in east Belfast
Alliance leader David Ford and Naomi Long during their manifesto launch at the Park Avenue Hotel in east Belfast

Alliance has denied "playing politics" with the future of the Assembly by refusing to make clear whether it will take up the Justice ministry.

As the Belfast Telegraph first revealed, David Ford is standing down after six years as Justice Minister.

However, there is no guarantee his party will continue in the role following next month's election.

That could throw the new Executive into disarray since the DUP and Sinn Fein are unlikely to agree on a justice minister from either of their own parties.

It could also throw a spanner in the works during the two weeks of negotiations planned after the election to draw up the next Executive's Programme for Government.

Launching his party's manifesto yesterday, Mr Ford said only Alliance had proved capable of providing a justice minister.

The party leader said there was "no point" in Alliance agreeing to continue in the role unless a strong plan for the next government could be agreed with the other parties in the negotiations.

And although the number of ministers will be reduced because the Assembly's departments are being cut from 12 to nine, Mr Ford insisted his party could again take a second portfolio - as it did with Stephen Farry as Employment and Learning Minister.

That could mean, however, Alliance having to expand its team of eight MLAs in the last Assembly election to 11.

Mr Ford said the party was looking to increase its representation in the Assembly, in order to get a department under the complex d'Hondt system used to share out ministries.

At the event in east Belfast - where the DUP last year won back the Westminster seat wrested from former First Minister Peter Robinson by Naomi Long - Mr Ford also called for a "reboot" of the Assembly and a general "clean-up" of politics.

He said getting rid of the 'petition of concern' - a parliamentary mechanism which critics say has been abused as a blocking mechanism - and axing the "sectarian" designations of MLAs would be a start.

And he added: "It's time that we cleaned up politics."

Westminster legislation which will eventually lead to donors to political parties being revealed and the requirement that Northern Ireland's 11 new councils must record public meetings should lead to a "wider reform of the system," he added.

Alliance has pledged to reintroduce prescription charges "for those able to pay", with certain exemptions, including children, people on benefits and the elderly, six years after former Health Minister Michael McGimpsey scrapped the charges. Alliance argued their reintroduction - even with a modest charge - could generate "a significant sum of money".

The manifesto also pledged a new Integrated Education Bill which would give every child wanting to attend an integrated school the opportunity to do so.

It also backed the introduction of what the party argued would be "fair" water charges, arguing that to avoid them would mean deeper cuts to public services.

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