The order in which parties select ministries is determined by the size of the parties.
When the full D’Hondt process was last run on 8 May 2007, there were still only ten ministries. The DUP was the largest party with 36 elected MLAs, followed by SF (28), UUP (18) and then SDLP (16). The parties selected ministries in the following order.
- DUP – Finance & Personnel (Peter Robinson)
- SF – Education (Caitríona Ruane)
- DUP – Enterprise, Trade & Investment (Nigel Dodds)
- UUP – Health, Social Services and Public Safety (Michael McGimpsey)
- SDLP – Social Development (Margaret Ritchie)
- SF – Regional Development (Conor Murphy)
- DUP – Environment (Arlene Foster)
- SF – Agriculture and Rural Development (Michelle Gildernew)
- DUP – Culture, Arts and Leisure (Edwin Poots)
- UUP – Employment and Learning (Reg Empey)
The order in which parties select ministries (together with the number of opportunities they have to select) is dependent on the relative size of seats they capture at the election. (See the NI Assembly Education Service’s excellent handout on D’Hondt if you want to find out more.)
The Ministry of Justice was squeezed into the Executive table on 12 April 2010, and is currently occupied by the Alliance Party’s leader David Ford. He was not elected by D’Hondt. Instead cross-community support was required as explained in this November 2008 letter from Peter Robinson and Martin McGuiness to Jimmy Spratt (Chair of the Assembly & Executive Review Committee).
Any Justice Minister elected during the period of these arrangements up until May 2012 would require a majority of Assembly members, present and voting, including a majority of designated nationalists and a majority of designated unionists. If during this period a vacancy in the office occurred, it would be filled in the same way.
The current NI Assembly standing orders seen to confirm that for now – and presumably until the May 2012 sunset – the Ministry of Justice will continue to be elected by cross-community vote outside of the main D’Hondt system.
It’s not feasible at this distance from the May 2011 Assembly election to speculate on the party order and full run down of ministry selections. But it is realistic to speculate on what the two largest parties might decide. (For the purposes of this post, I’ve assumed that the DUP and Sinn Féin remain the two largest parties.)
So next time round if Sinn Féin were to end up with most seats in the Assembly, will they continue to prioritise education, or will they instead look to widen their impact by controlling the Executive purse strings through DFP?
And if the DUP are still the largest party block, will they immediately grab education?
Feel free to comment below with your guesses of the order in which the top two parties will nominate, which ministries they will both select, and your reason why. If I remember in May 2011, I’ll come back and see who had the most accurate predictions.
Update – If you want to run the full D’Hondt using your predictions of party seat totals, then you can click through to the dhondt.eu website – though watch out in case it gets the order wrong in the case of a tie in one round. (Mark – thanks)
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.