Belfast Telegraph

Better late than never as politicians get back to business at Stormont

Saturday to see appointment of ministers as wait ends

Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Credit: Philip Magowan/Press Eye
Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Credit: Philip Magowan/Press Eye
SDLP
arlo
mary lou
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Ministers will be appointed in a new power-sharing executive on Saturday as devolution is restored at Stormont after three years.

The Assembly is due to sit in plenary session at 1pm when a new speaker and deputy speaker will be chosen.

Arlene Foster will then be installed as First Minister and Michelle O'Neill as deputy First Minister before the other positions in the administration are filled.

Stormont sources predicted that women would feature prominently in the new appointments.

They revealed that the justice ministry will remain outside the D'Hondt process.

It will be offered to either Alliance leader Naomi Long or independent unionist MLA Claire Sugden, who held the portfolio in the last administration.

The new executive will include at least three parties as the SDLP said it was willing to take its seat. Nichola Mallon is likely to be the party's ministerial choice.

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SDLP

The Ulster Unionist executive will meet on Saturday morning to decide whether it follows the SDLP or goes into opposition. Leader Steve Aiken has been a strong supporter of going into government, with Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie firmly opposed.

Alliance on Friday night gave its support to the New Decade, New Approach deal which it described as an "honourable compromise".

The party is not entitled to a ministry under the D'Hondt system, but it is willing to enter the executive if offered the justice portfolio.

If the UUP goes into opposition, the DUP would want another unionist at the executive table.

Stormont sources tipped former Health Minister Edwin Poots as likely to secure a ministry.

Senior Sinn Fein MLA John O'Dowd is predicted to be made a minister.

East Londonderry MLA Caoimhe Archibald is reportedly a contender for a junior ministry.

Sinn Fein and the DUP both voiced their support for the two governments' blueprint on Friday, despite saying it wasn't perfect.

The DUP leadership briefed its executive and councillors on the deal on Friday night. Despite some discomfort among representatives at the agreement during Thursday's internal discussions, the party was relieved that there was no public opposition.

DUP leader Arlene Foster conceded that there were parts of the deal that would be challenging for the people whom she represents.

"But overall and on the whole I feel that it's a fair and balanced deal and that's why we were able to recommend it to our party officers and to the elected representatives," she said.

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"I think people will note that whilst there is a recognition of the facilitation of Irish language, there is also very much a recognition of those of us who are Ulster British and live here in Northern Ireland as well, and there is many mechanisms to strengthen the Union."

Ms Foster responded to criticism of the deal from the Orange Order and TUV leader Jim Allister. "I think if anybody reads the agreement they will see that it is a fair and balanced deal," she said.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said the executive faced many challenges, including the impact of Brexit and austerity. "But the biggest and most significant challenge will be ensuring we have genuine powersharing built on equality, respect and integrity," she added.

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"I believe that the powersharing government can work. That requires everyone to step up. Sinn Fein's commitment is to do all in our power to make this happen."

Ms McDonald responded to Irish language activists disappointed in the deal. She said it was only a start and more gains for the language would come in the future.

"I would say to Irish language activists, take heart from the fact that this is now a historic moment because for the first time we have official recognition," she said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: "This is a great step forwards for the people of Northern Ireland and for restoring public confidence in stable devolved Government and delivering much needed reforms to public services."

Nichola McKee Corner, the sister of journalist Lyra McKee, whose murder last April sparked a fresh round of talks, said: "Through New Decade, New Approach we may see the day when Northern Ireland finally breaks free from the chains of its past that have strangled it for decades."

The priest who criticised political leaders at Ms McKee's funeral also welcomed the deal. Fr Martin Magill said it was "a fine document containing keynote points around health, education, tackling paramilitarism, addiction and mental health issues". But he said that the challenge for Stormont now was to change people's lives on the ground.

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