Belfast Telegraph

Alliance Stormont roles at risk

Stormont's leaders have unveiled plans to effectively strip the Alliance Party of one of its ministries.

However the latest set of proposals include concessions which could prevent the party abandoning its role at the helm of the Department of Justice.

First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have confirmed they want to continue with the temporary system for electing the Justice Minister, which was agreed following the devolution of policing and justice powers from Westminster.

They have also said they intend to press ahead with plans to scrap the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL), before holding a wider review of the size and function of all 12 government departments.

The special system used to elect Northern Ireland's Justice Minister - which steps outside the power-sharing arrangements at Stormont - is set to be extended beyond May 2012, when it was due to lapse.

However the Assembly leaders have suggested new legislation to ensure the Justice Minister will have the same tenure as ministers elected under the d'Hondt power-sharing system, who are voted in for a full Assembly term.

The Alliance Party, which holds the DEL ministry and whose leader David Ford is the current Justice Minister, had objected to an earlier set of proposals published following talks last week.

Mr Ford gave a mixed response to the latest plans and said: "There continues to be much media interest in Alliance's willingness to serve in the Department of Justice beyond May 2012. That is a decision that our party council will take in its own time, and in light of the content and timing of the Westminster legislation that is being sought by the First Minister and deputy First Minister."

In talks on the future of the justice ministry last week, Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness proposed extending its temporary arrangements, but also proposed breaking-up the second ministry held by Alliance. However the plan to scrap DEL sparked objections from Alliance, and fuelled speculation it might walk out of the Justice ministry in protest.

Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness indicated they were willing to meet some Alliance party demands in an apparent bid to avoid any potential crisis.

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