Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster slams criticism of Justice Minister Claire Sugden - as newly formed Executive hold first meeting

By Claire Williamson

First Minister Arlene Foster has hit out at criticism over the appointment of new Justice Minister Independent MLA Claire Sugden.

It comes as the first meeting of the newly formed Executive took place on Thursday morning.

It lasted 20 minutes and the Executive agreed a draft framework for the programme of government which will now go out for public consulation.

On Wednesday the new ministers were announced at Stormont with eleven out of the 12 posts shared between the DUP and Sinn Fein - with the justice minister post being taken by Independent Unionist Claire Sugden.

Ministerial offices

The new DUP ministers are:

Minister for the the Economy - Simon Hamilton

Minister for Education - Peter Weir

Minister for Agriculture and the Environment - Michelle McIlveen

Minister for Communities - Paul Givan

Junior minister - Alastair Ross


The Sinn Fein ministers are:

Minister for Finance - Mairtin O Muilleoir

Minister for Infrastructure - Chris Hazzard

Minister for Health - Michelle O'Neill

Junior Minister - Megan Fearon

Claire Sugden's appointment as Justice Minister was met with criticism from the UUP and SDLP who have formed an official government opposition.

The Alliance party, who have filled the post since 2010, creating a solution for the mutual veto of the politically sensitive role by DUP and Sinn Fein, also did not give their support.

The 29-year-old succeeds Alliance party leader David Ford after he turned down the role last week.

Claire Sugden said the decision was the "most difficult" of her life.

She said: "This is probably the most difficult decision I have had in my life.

"It did cause me a lot of anxiety over this last week but it is an opportunity for me, for my constituency and most importantly it's an opportunity for Northern Ireland.

"And I am looking forward to it."

Defending the appointment First Minister Arlene Foster told BBC Good Morning Ulster that Ms Sugden will have her full support.

She said: "I said to Claire yesterday that she would have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageousness from some of her MLA colleagues behind her and that's exactly what happened.

"I thought it was entirely graceless the way some people are struggling for relevance in the assembly, they attacked someone who has stepped forward to take on a very difficult job."

"I want to assure Claire she will have my support and I believe the support of the deputy first minister and his colleagues in doing what will be a very difficult job."

Mrs Foster slammed Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt's comments during proceedings as "pathetic" after he asked about seating arrangements.

The DUP leader said:  "I expect the opposition to struggle for relevance and they will attack Claire and the process.

"We will work with Claire to give her all the support she needs in the Executive and help her to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.

"I'm not really focusing on small things, such as Mike Nesbitt wanting to sit somewhere different - that's where his focus is.

"I thought it was pathetic. On a day that we have been told here is this great new opposition that the first thing he has to say is that he wants to sit in a different place. Is that where his focus is, it says a lot about him and where his party is going.

"I'm about delivering for the people of Northern Ireland who have put their trust in me and to deliver good government for the people of Northern Ireland."

Mrs Foster also said that she would be taking a "personal interest" in all ministerial departments.

She said: "It's not a case of us being in departmental silos - and that's something else I emphasised yesterday to my colleagues - we are moving forward in a new way of doing things."

"We will not be working in silos we will be working across departmental lines."

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