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Anger in my party may make me quit Justice Minister post, warns David Ford

By Noel McAdam

The Alliance leader has said his party is considering whether to pull the plug on him remaining as Justice Minister — a move that would plunge Stormont into a political crisis.

David Ford firmly believes the Assembly parties could not agree on anyone else to take over the vital justice portfolio if Alliance refused to allow him to stay in position.

Ahead of its annual conference this weekend, Mr Ford warned there is growing anger among party members over the Executive’s decision to scrap Alliance’s other ministry, the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL).

The South Antrim Assemblyman accused First and Deputy First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness of attempting to “fiddle” with the Stormont constitution.

And asked if he really thinks his party’s ruling council could decide against allowing him to continue as Justice Minister, he replied: “I certainly can.”

The Alliance chief also said he has warned Secretary of State Owen Paterson over the prospect of the justice portfolio, devolved from Westminster two years ago, being left vacant.

The decision to axe DEL, which will remove Stephen Farry from the Executive, will mean a re-run of the d’Hondt mechanism which allocates ministries on the Executive, probably in the autumn.

But Mr Ford also confirmed there are signs that the dismantling of DEL is beginning to run into problems, with a strong push for it to be replaced by a single Department for the Economy.

In return for agreeing to stay on as Justice Minister — a post decided on a cross-community vote rather than d’Hondt — Mr Ford wants a guarantee he will not be summarily dismissed from his post.

But despite an exchange of letters with Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness, sufficient guarantees that he would be safe have not been forthcoming.

“Last year the electorate gave us a guaranteed one seat out of 10 on the Executive as a result of extra votes for Alliance and seats in the Assembly. The proposal at the moment is to fiddle the constitution to deprive us of that right,” Mr Ford told the Belfast Telegraph.

“We have made it very clear that in those circumstances we would expect a minister to be given a guarantee — that they could not be removed except by their party leader.”

That would mean the only person who could remove Ford from the justice hotseat is himself.

In response to whether he could envisage the Alliance council pulling the plug, Mr Ford said: “I certainly can. There are people who say we should have left the Executive at the point where it became clear Stephen would lose the ministry. People feel fairly sore.”

DAVID FORD ON...

... Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness:

“They’re attempting to fiddle with the Stormont constitution.”

... losing one of Alliance’s two seats on the Executive:

“We are being robbed of a seat we won fair and square.”

... the decision to axe the Department of Education and Learning:

“(It’s) either vandalism towards DEL or malice towards the Alliance Party.”

... the mood in his party:

“Extremely annoyed.”

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