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I'd consider being Justice Minister, independent unionist MLA Claire Sugden confirms

By Noel McAdam

Published 21/05/2016

Claire Sugden
Claire Sugden

Independent unionist MLA Claire Sugden has said she will consider taking the job of Justice Minister if it is offered.

The post must be filled by next Wednesday or fresh Assembly elections will have to be called.

Ms Sugden (29) has emerged as an unexpected contender for the post after the Alliance Party said it would not take the ministerial position previously held by its leader David Ford.

But she admitted she was "surprised" to be called to a meeting with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness - and that she might have been used in an attempt to put the frighteners on Alliance over the job.

Ms Sugden also revealed her conversation with the two leaders lasted only around five minutes.

"They asked me in general terms about my views on the position, but they didn't offer me anything," she said.

After her meeting on Thursday Ms Sugden walked down the hill from Stormont just as the Alliance delegation arrived for its conflab with the First and Deputy First Ministers.

Asked if she was possibly being manipulated to put pressure on Alliance, she said: "There is every chance that is what they were doing, but if that was the reason, all I would say is: 'That's politics'."

The East Londonderry MLA described her meeting as a serious encounter.

"The first and foremost issue for me would be whether being a minister would be a good or bad thing for my constituents. I know I would have a whole department of civil servants around me," she said.

"Secondly would be whether, as an independent, I could do the job as a minister. I honestly believe that I could. Look at some of the ministers we have had. Could l perform any worse than some of them?

"The third consideration then would be that it is, of course, a huge lifestyle change. So I will just wait and see what happens over the next few days."

Speaking of her surprise at being approached, she added: "I genuinely thought that Alliance would take it. And, of course, that could still happen, it is still a viable option."

On her qualifications for the role, the woman who became an MLA in 2014 after being co-opted to replace political mentor David McClarty on his death, and was voted back in this month, said she had two degrees in politics, and would take a "very strategic approach" if given the post.

Green Party leader Steven Agnew, who also met the First and Deputy First Ministers over the ministry, said taking up the job would be "problematic".

"We have made no secret that we want to see more progress on the Green New Deal, integrated education and abortion reform. We have been given no guarantees," he said.

Mr McGuinness has already said: "We have made it very clear ... we are in control." He stated there would be an Assembly meeting to appoint ministers followed by an Executive meeting the following day, next Thursday.

Mrs Foster added: "We (the DUP and SF) both campaigned to be in government; others didn't campaign in the same way and we are seeing the fallout of all of that."

Belfast Telegraph

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