Alliance leader David Ford may turn down Justice Minister job
The deal to save Northern Ireland's power-sharing government is facing its first significant challenge after the politician tipped to be the new justice minister cast doubt on whether he would accept the post.
Alliance Party leader David Ford said the ruling Sinn Fein/Democratic Unionist coalition would have to do more to tackle sectarian divisions before he would put his name forward.
As part of the broad-ranging agreement on law and order devolution and parade management announced on Friday, DUP First Minister Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are to meet with Stormont's minor parties today to consider applications for the justice ministry.
Both main parties have agreed not to nominate candidates from their own ranks.
And while the Ulster Unionists and SDLP have greater electoral strength within the Assembly, the non-aligned Alliance Party is considered the only one that could achieve the necessary cross-community backing of both the DUP and Sinn Fein in a vote.
But Mr Ford yesterday said his party was not yet in a position to apply for the post, claiming policies for the new ministry have not been properly outlined.
He is also unhappy that Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness have still not published a long-delayed strategy to tackle division in Northern Ireland society.
“On the basis of a leaders' meeting tomorrow there would not be an Alliance nomination,” he told Radio Ulster.
“If things change then things may change. But the current position is that we have not seen enough movement around a community relations strategy and around getting all the policies that we believe should be implemented by a department of justice.”
Both the Ulster Unionists and SDLP have criticised the notion of Alliance being the DUP and Sinn Fein's preferred choice, accusing the main parties of gerrymandering the selection.
The current 11 ministries in the Executive were allocated using the D'Hondt system.
If that process was re-run, instead of the cross-community vote in the Assembly, the SDLP would be given an extra ministry. However, in that case the justice post may well end up in the Ulster Unionists' hands as they would pick their preferred portfolio before the nationalist party.
Both the UUP and SDLP favour retaining the D'Hondt system.
Under the terms of the Hillsborough Agreement, justice powers are set to be devolved from Westminster to Stormont on April 12.
However a number of matters, including the selection of a minister and proposed changes to parade management processes, need to be resolved before that can go ahead.