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Alliance sets its price for taking Justice ministry

Five conditions must be met before they will join Executive

By David Young, PA

Published 18/05/2016

David Ford
David Ford

The Alliance Party has told Stormont's leaders they must deliver a five-point wish list if they want it to re-take the Executive's contentious Justice ministry.

However, writing for the Belfast Telegraph, former Alliance deputy leader Seamus Close said taking the post would be "a huge mistake and a fundamental error of judgment where the electorate would see them as patsys of the DUP and Sinn Fein".

Yesterday, Alliance leader David Ford presented his demands to the DUP and Sinn Fein during talks on the formation of a new coalition administration.

"We will wait to see what response we receive and what discussions there might be," he said.

The party's decision on whether to accept the DUP/Sinn Fein offer to take the post it has filled since 2010 has become key to the viability of the Executive.

If the cross-community party declines, Stormont will be facing another crisis, just weeks after the Assembly election, as neither the DUP nor Sinn Fein are likely to allow the other to assume the politically sensitive portfolio.

The mutual veto has been overcome in past years by Alliance taking the job.

Mr Ford and party colleagues have drawn up a three-page document for DUP First Minister Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and are awaiting responses.

While the DUP and Sinn Fein have until next Wednesday to form a new administration, Alliance wants to see progress before Thursday evening, when its ruling council is due to meet.

If Alliance was to take the ministry, it would only remain in the post if certain timelines for delivery of its requests are met by the main parties.

"What we will be putting forward will require targets to be reached and commitments to be made," said Mr Ford.

"If delivery is not made, then an Alliance minister will not remain in post, if there is an Alliance minister in post at all."

Unlike most ministerial jobs, the Justice Minister can only be appointed with the backing of both a majority of nationalist and unionist MLAs.

Mrs Foster has already made clear her party would not consent to Sinn Fein taking the post.

Given the DUP leader's stance, her republican partners in government are highly unlikely to support a DUP incumbent.

But former Lagan Valley MLA and the party's former deputy Seamus Close told the Belfast Telegraph: "Arlene's comment was effectively turning up the heat on Alliance. This is undisguised political blackmail.

"For the Alliance Party to succumb to this blatant pressure would be a huge mistake and a fundamental error of judgment where the electorate would see them as patsys of the DUP and, presumably, Sinn Fein."

If Alliance follows the lead already taken by the Ulster Unionists and refuses to join the new administration, then the two main parties would have to find another agreed minister.

While the SDLP remains in negotiations to form an Executive, it is unlikely both the DUP and Sinn Fein would support the nationalist party taking on justice.

In that context, the Green Party, which has two seats, has been mooted as an alternative.

Earlier on Tuesday, Green party leader Steven Agnew did not rule himself out as a potential minister. However, he said significant changes would be required on the proposed DUP/Sinn Fein Programme for Government, with more emphasis on eco-friendly investment policies and integrated education, before he could contemplate joining the Stormont Executive.

"I saw parties in the last mandate have positions in government but no positions of power," Mr Agnew said when asked if he would consider taking the post if offered.

"I would go in to assess whether or not I would have any power or any say in decision-making, and it would be on that basis I would make any decision."

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