Justice Minister David Ford is expected to remain in his post for at least another three years after agreement was reached during all-party talks at Stormont last night.
The three largest parties have agreed that the Alliance leader should retain the ministry until the next election in 2015 or 2016, but this should be balanced by the abolition of Alliance’s other ministry, the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL).
This position was spelled out in a statement by the First and Deputy First Minister late last night and welcomed by the Ulster Unionists.
The three parties want DEL’s functions split between the Department of Trade and Industry, held by the DUP, and the Department of Education which is in Sinn Fein hands.
That would reduce the present 11 ministries to 10 and end the anomaly whereby Alliance, with just eight MLAs, holds two ministries — as many as the combined total of the UUP and SDLP, who have 30 assembly members between them.
When justice was devolved in 2010, Alliance was the only party trusted by both the DUP and Sinn Fein to hold such the brief, which covers policing, courts and prisons.
Mr Ford’s appointment originally contained a sunset clause of May 1 this year, by which time a decision must be made on how to proceed.