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Who’ll get top job key issue for voters: DUP

DUP leader Peter Robinson wants to slash the number of MLAs and departments at Stormont

By Liam Clarke

DUP leader Peter Robinson says that he is finding that one of the main election issues on the doorsteps is who will be elected First Minister.

He was speaking at the launch of a major policy document on how to streamline devolution and make it more efficient.

The DUP has put forward proposals for slashing the number of MLAs and departments at Stormont and moving towards a voluntary coalition, instead of the present compulsory all-party Government, by 2015.

Its ideas to streamline government were set out in a document launched in Belfast yesterday.

It adopts a twin-track approach, putting forward some ideas which can be implemented straight after the election and others which will take longer. At Stormont parties must designate as nationalist, unionist or other, the argument over how the First Minister should be picked springs from a change made between the St Andrews Agreement and the law passed to put it into practice.

The agreement itself specifies that the largest party in the largest designation should supply the First Minister, while the largest party in the next highest designation supplies the Deputy First Minister. Under the Act, this was changed so that the largest party could supply the First Minister.

This opened up the possibility that if Sinn Fein could overtake the DUP it could nominate the top post, even though there were more unionists than nationalists in the Assembly.

Something similar happened in the European elections when Sinn Fein topped the poll, but the combined unionist vote was higher and two unionists were elected compared to one nationalist.

Although First and Deputy First Ministers have equivalent powers, and one can veto the other, the DUP believes that more kudos attaches to the title First Minister.

For instance, the First Minister shakes the hand of foreign dignitaries first.

Raising the issue in the election is an encouragement to unionists to vote against a Sinn Fein First Minister by clustering around the DUP in preference to other unionist parties like the TUV and UUP.

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