An Executive minister has backed moves to merge his department with another one in a wide-ranging Stormont shake-up.
Employment and Learning chief Stephen Farry said he would support "virtually all" of his department being taken over by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) headed by the DUP's Arlene Foster. And Mr Farry told the Assembly he believed Stormont's 12 departments should be cut to eight in time for the next Assembly term.
The multi-party talks are also currently discussing slashing departments.
At question time yesterday, the Alliance minister said: "Just to be clear, I see virtually all my department going into a Department of the Economy alongside virtually all of DETI.
"It is very clear that the further education sector and universities are a key part of the economic narrative in Northern Ireland."
Green Party leader Steven Agnew asked what progress had been made since Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness announced that Mr Farry's department would be shut down two-and-a-half years ago.
"I believe that the number of departments should be rationalised from 12 to eight from the start of the next mandate of the Assembly," Mr Farry replied.
And Mr Farry added: "We want to avoid the situation where departments are carved up for political ends, which was the danger in 2012.
"Today, we have the opportunity to do this as part of a wider reform of government structures."