Ford to resign as Justice Minister after May election but will stay on as Alliance leader
David Ford is to stand down as Justice Minister after the Assembly election in May, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
After six years in the post, the Alliance Party leader said he would not put his name forward when the new ministries are shared out following the May 5 poll.
And he also disclosed the party may decide not to nominate anyone for the position, which threatens to throw the next Executive into crisis.
It is unlikely that the other parties in the Executive - the DUP, Sinn Fein and SDLP - could agree on anyone within their ranks taking up the Justice portfolio.
One of two other MLAs nominated as a contender for the position, the SDLP's Alban Maginness, is not running for re-election.
And the party of the other candidate, Danny Kennedy of the UUP, is no longer even in the Executive.
Mr Ford said Alliance would await the outcome of two weeks of negotiations on the Executive's new Programme for Government before deciding if it would accept the department again.
He denied it amounted to putting a gun to the other parties' heads and precipitating a potential crisis. "I think it is likely that after six years doing one of the most difficult jobs in the Executive, it would be inappropriate for me to put my name forward to remain as Justice Minister," he said.
Whether the party will qualify for any ministry depends on its performance in the election.
But with the number of ministries being reduced - along with the amalgamation of departments from 12 to nine - Alliance is likely to be only entitled to one.
If it agrees to accept the Department of Justice upfront, as the current rules allow for, it would be unlikely the party would get another pick.
"If we qualify for a ministry, there is nothing to say that we have to take Justice," Mr Ford explained.
"The big question is whether we are going to get sufficient agreement around the Programme for Government.
"We will wait and see whether we want to continue running Justice or if we want to take over another department."
Mr Ford insisted that while he intended to end his period as the province's first Justice Minister in 38 years, he had no plans to stand down as Alliance Party leader.
He is due to attend his 15th annual party conference as leader next week and intends to lead the party into the May election and beyond.
The veteran South Antrim MLA and Antrim councillor, whose 65th birthday was on Wednesday past, said: "When I became leader I said to the party: 'When you want me to go, there is no need for the men in grey suits - just tell me'.
"The party has not said anything like that."
When he became Justice Minister in 2010 Mr Ford was supported by the DUP, Sinn Fein, Greens and his own party.
There were also nominations from the UUP for Mr Kennedy - who became Regional Development Minister before the party withdrew from the Executive - and Mr Maginness from the SDLP.
After protracted negotiations on the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly, it became apparent that the two biggest Stormont players - Sinn Fein and the DUP - would not agree to anyone from their respective parties taking over the Justice portfolio.