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Ford ready to take role as Justice Minister but SDLP cry foul over his accession

By Noel McAdam

The Alliance Party has been accused of an “unseemly grab for office” after confirming leader David Ford will go forward for the first Justice Ministry.

While the mechanism under which all Executive ministers were appointed would ensure the SDLP held the post — the d’Hondt procedure — the combined Assembly votes of the DUP and Sinn Fein will guarantee Ford the post.

SDLP policing spokesman Alex Attwood said Ford’s insistence he has received assurances he requires, including movement on the strategy for a “shared future”, was a big leap

Mr Attwood argued: “This announcement makes more graphic and more public what the DUP and Sinn Fein have worked together to bring about. Today it is confirmed that a unionist shall be the Justice Minister come the middle of April. The exclusion of nationalism from Government is confirmed and advertised.

“The offence to nationalism is further confirmed by the fact that Alliance are putting a name forward on the basis of a secret document developed by Sinn Fein and the DUP that claims to make proposals for a shared future.

“What does it say about a future Justice Minister that he would allow his name to go forward without the Shared Future document being published and assessed by the wider public?

“The Alliance Party made it a virtue that it would not nominate without agreement on a shared future. They now abandon this position, nominating on the basis of proposals no one can make any assessment of.

“This is a tiny fig leaf to cover an unseemly grab for office.”

Mr Ford replied: “We are not making a claim on this post as of right. Sinn Fein has said quite consistently it would prefer an SDLP minister but the question is what actually will be deliverable.

“The role of opposition is what we were saddled with at Stormont but we did not want to have the position of Justice Minister without the power to deliver on what the people want.”

He said he had received assurances of support from the DUP and Sinn Fein to ensure the Justice department will not run into stalemate.

The two main power-sharing partners have sufficient Assembly votes — 64 out of 108 — to ensure Mr Ford reaches the cross-community threshold, despite the opposition of the SDLP and Ulster Unionists.

His willingness to go forward for the position — which the party has held back on until yesterday — makes it likely he will be in the role on April 12.

A meeting of the party’s ruling council agreed it should nominate for the position following the unblocking of the so-called Shared Future strategy — delayed by disagreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP for more than two years — and assurances of ministerial support for the new minister on the Executive.

More than 80 members of the council were present and the decision was said to be “near to unanimous” with some misgivings being expressed.

First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy Martin McGuinness are now likely to state only an Alliance Party nominee can accede to the position, at least until the current arrangements are reviewed again in two years.

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