Alliance grip tightens? Or hold hands with Sugden?

Waiting for the FA Cup Final the Newsletter has made a simple inquiry to the renamed OFMDFM. Presumably they passed the information onto the office holders who will respond accordingly. My job share suggestion won’t fly apparently. Brendan Heading is not the only one interested…But how about SF  and DUP one after the other, like Israel’s Shimon Peres and Yitzak Shamir? ( a grandiose parallel I admit.).

 In the 1984 elections, the Alignment won more seats than any other party but failed to muster the majority of 61 mandates needed to form a left-wing coalition. Alignment and Likud agreed to an unusual “rotation” arrangement, or unity government, in which Peres would serve as Prime Minister and the Likud leaderYitzhak Shamir would be Foreign Minister..Apart of the deal, after two years, Peres and Shamir traded places.

It is not possible to have both a DUP and a Sinn Fein justice minister, the Executive Office has declared.

There had been speculation online about whether such a move was a feasible way to solve the impasse around appointing a justice minister who is suitable to both nationalists/republicans and unionists/loyalists.

But while the Northern Ireland Act (1998) does appear to make provision for such a move, the Executive Office said that it was not the correct law upon which to focus.

A spokesperson for The Executive Office (which was formerly called the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister, or OFMDFM) said: “The appointment of a Minister will be conducted under the provisions of the Justice Act 2010 which does not provide for a joint ministerial post.”

There had also been speculation that the wording of the Northern Ireland Act may also allow non-MLAs to be in the running for the justice ministry.

However, the Executive Office also addressed this too, saying: “Only a member of the Assembly can be nominated to hold the office of Minister of Justice (Schedule 4A of the Northern Ireland Act 1998).”


Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • Brendan Heading


    I’m not sure I understand the headline – “Alliance grip tightens” ? It seems pretty clear at this point that Alliance are out of the picture.

    That aside, I added an update to my earlier article in line with the News Letter article quoted above.

    The Executive Office saying that it is “not possible” is, surely, not quite accurate. It’s not possible under the current Assembly legislation which created the Department of Justice. But the Assembly could have rushed through new legislation to re-establish the department with two ministers (although they would have to find a way to obtain royal assent by Wednesday). However, it is now clear that this is not going to happen.

    I’m pretty sure Claire Sugden will not be the new Minister. My money is on the DUP and SF cutting a deal, probably substantially in private, which allows the DUP minister to take the post.

  • Brendan Heading

    Peter – fancy putting on a bet ?

  • Peter Doran

    How many pieces of silver?

  • Peter Doran

    A pint! You’re on.

  • Brendan Heading

    a pint ? That’s no good. How about some real money ? £100 ?

  • Pete

    I have to say, I don’t understand the DUP’s stance on Justice Minister. If they’re happy to work with Sinn Fein in any other area, I do think it’s inconsistent that they are ruling out a SF Justice Minister, especially when this will result in them having to make concessions to SF elsewhere.

  • Brian Walker

    Just keeping the book open Brendan.A DUP/SF deal would be quite a development. Not the same as the statutory FMDFM.

  • Brendan Heading

    To be clear, the book concerns Alliance being Justice Minister.

    I can’t say that Alliance will not be justice minister, as the party are leaving the door open for DUPSF to come back with an enhanced proposal. However I think at this stage DUPSF have made their minds up not to bother so I feel reasonably safe.

    It’s been pointed out elsewhere that appointing Sugden to the role would actually solve the government quite a few problems. The immediate issue facing them at the moment is that if they don’t appoint an Executive of Wednesday, there is an automatic assembly election. They can fire her or let her resign after she’s been appointed which would give them more time to seal a more durable deal.

  • Zig70

    The justice ministry went to a unionist last time so only fair it should go over the other side. I’d vote for Eamonn McCann, you know he’d be straight. Somehow I suspect SF would rather not take it.

  • fralycis

    So, as the seven d’Hondt ministers are allocated on Wednesday, we’re looking at 4 DUP + 3 SF (correct?) So there’s a 4-3 Unionist/Nationalist ratio.

    I haven’t got an answer yet to why SF would want Sugden to be the Justice Minister, considering that she designates as Unionist, and thus increasing the Unionist/Nationalist ratio to 5-3? Is this simply SF picking the lesser of two evils (aka avoiding a fifth DUP minister and especially in a role as contentious as Justice).

    Surely Martin and the SF team would be literally desperate to get Alliance back on board (ensuring the ratio doesn’t tilt so favourably in Unionism’s favour?) Maybe is it the DUP that is really reacting strongly to reject Alliance’s proposals?

    Or hypothetically, could part of a deal involving Sugden involve her re-designating as ‘Other’, especially as she says that the deal is sealed if she can represent her East L’Derry constituency as a whole (with a sizeable Nationalist community in her constituency as it stands… surely she should designate as Other to be impartial in this case?)

  • mjh

    I believe re-designation is no longer allowed.