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Martin McGuinness: I’m willing to share big job if Sinn Fein top poll

By Liam Clarke

Martin McGuinness has said he would consider sharing the post of First Minister if Sinn Fein tops the poll in the Assembly elections.

The current Deputy First Minister made the comments following controversial comments from Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott in yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph when he said his party would consider a unionist electoral pact after the election to prevent Mr McGuinness taking the top job.

Under Assembly rules the biggest party picks the First Minster’s position.

“If the electorate return Sinn Fein and the DUP as the largest party, I would be prepared to give consideration to the title of ‘Joint First Minister', or both First Minister,” Mr McGuinness said last night. He pointed out that the post of First Minister and Deputy First Minister had co-equal powers in any case.

His intervention is unlikely to defuse a bitter row over the UUP proposals for a possible post-election unionist pact if Sinn Fein topped the poll, as it did in last year’s European election. Mr Elliott said his party has already taken legal advice and is convinced it would be feasible for unionists to form a single Assembly party after the election if necessary.

Last night the DUP rejected Mr Elliott’s proposal. A DUP spokesman questioned the UUP’s seriousness in making the proposal. He said that it had never approached his party to discuss a post-election pact.

Mr Elliott confirmed that he had not sounded out the DUP about the idea up to now, and would only do so if it became necessary.

“The DUP would have been quite keen for us to do a deal with them before the election but it was very much on their terms,” he said. “All I am pointing out is that there are also options to be examined after the election. The reality is that, if Sinn Fein topped the poll, all unionist parties would have to give it serious consideration.”

Fred Cobain, UUP chief whip, accused the DUP of rejecting the idea because it wanted to convince people to vote DUP to keep Sinn Fein out. “After working with Martin McGuinness, they now have to portray him as a bogeyman to get votes,” he said.

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In yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph, Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott said his party had taken legal advice on the possibility of a unionist pact after the election. But the plan has been rejected by the DUP. Peter Weir, the DUP chief whip, said: “If Tom Elliott wants to stop Martin McGuinness becoming First Minister, the only way is to vote DUP.”

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