Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Negotiations begin in earnest as victors share election spoils

DUP leader Peter Robinson

Behind-the-scenes horse-trading over senior political positions is expected to get under way today in the aftermath of the Assembly elections.

First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness were due to meet this morning as a week of inter-party hard bargaining begins.

A significant shake-up of Ministerial portfolios seems likely along with a revamp of Stormont scrutiny committee chairmanships.

But the talks seem likely to fall short of the discussions on a new programme of government demanded by Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott.

There has been speculation that Sinn Fein will opt to take the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Industry (DETI) as their first choice for a ministerial appointment.

And it has been suggested the party could shift Conor Murphy from Regional Development into DETI, replacing the former Minister Arlene Foster.

The DUP’s Ms Foster, who came in just behind Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew — the outgoing Agriculture Minister — and Mr Elliott in the first count in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, is tipped to take over Education from Caitriona Ruane.

But DUP leader Peter Robinson has already indicated that his first choice will be to retain the Finance Ministry with Sammy Wilson likely to stay in position — at least in the short-term.

However, Sinn Fein opting for DETI would allow Mr Robinson to take education as the third choice when the complex D’Hondt procedure is rolled out.

Senior Stormont sources are also predicting that Sinn Fein’s Martina Anderson — elected on the first count in Foyle — could replace Mr Murphy at Regional Development or an alternative portfolio. Mr McGuinness declined to go into any detail yesterday but he and Mr Robinson are also likely to consider the appointment of a new Justice Minister in the allocation of ministries, which is based on the number of Assembly seats won.

The DUP now has two more seats than before — 38 — and Sinn Fein one extra — a total of 29 — but it is most likely Alliance leader David Ford will continue in the position under the Hillsborough deal hammered out between the two big parties last year. Alliance would be entitled to another Executive seat following its increased vote share but Ulster Unionists will retain both their seats if disaffected former member David McClarty returns to the fold.

It is also thought the position of Assembly Speaker could be in the mix in the negotiations ahead of the first anticipated Assembly session on Friday.

While it appears most likely the well-respected William Hay, returned on the first count to top the poll in Foyle, will resume the role, there is a prospect of it going to a nationalist.

Sinn Fein’s Francie Molloy — who won the last seat in Mid-Ulster — has been tipped for the position along with the SDLP’s John Dallat, who was elected on the sixth count in east Londonderry.

Both, along with independent David McClarty, have acted as deputy speakers to Mr Hay in the last term.

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