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End of term, but will head girl Caitriona Ruane be back?

By Noel McAdam

Sammy Wilson drew one of the loudest cheers at the DUP annual conference by chanting “only 100 more days of Caitriona!” And at regular intervals since, the party has counted down the remaining time in office of their bete noire, the Education Minister.

But whether this means anything more than Ms Ruane ending her term on polling day (May 5) like all her Executive colleagues remains to be seen. In which case, she could be back in office again within a week.

But some speculate that Sinn Fein will opt for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Industry first this time, putting it up to the DUP to grab Education.

If the parties remain at their current strengths, the DUP gets first and third choice, with Sinn Fein second.

It is widely believed the DUP remains keenest to keep its hands on Finance, which would leave Education wide open for a Ruane resumption.

But some DUP sources suspect Sinn Fein wants to shift its focus towards other departments, partly to build on its |reputation in the Republic after doubling its seats in the recent general election there.

Ultimately it will be the electorate which decides come May 5. In the unlikely but not impossible scenario of Sinn Fein being the largest party, not only would Martin McGuinness be First Minister, the party would also have first choice of the individual portfolio share-outs.

But if Sinn Fein plumped for purse-strings control, would the DUP then go for Education? Or is Sinn Fein more likely to grant Ms Ruane’s wish and take Education as first choice, leaving Sammy Wilson as ‘chancellor’?

It is difficult to assess whether Ruane’s power position within her party remains unchanged after the departure of Gerry Adams — who has been one of her champions — from the Assembly to the Dail. Is ex-Education Minister McGuinness as strong a supporter?

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