Goodbye Catriona, Michelle & Conor; Hello Mitchel, Martina & John?

Now that the election is over, the new fun game for us political anoraks is guessing the names of the new ministers set to take office in the Executive next week. Whilst I’ve an idea that Mick has a thread in the pipeline to facilitate those seeking to anticipate the order of ministerial pickings, both the BBC and UTV carried speculation today that Sinn Fein is set to introduce a new panel of its elected representatives to the Executive, moving those currently holding ministerial posts into committee chair positions.

This is a good idea.

I’ve written repeatedly on Slugger about my concerns regarding Sinn Fein’s underwhelming performance at Assembly and Executive level to date, something which stems partially from the fact that the party has a smaller proportion of its elected representatives that could realistically be deemed as ministerial calibre than most of the other major parties.

Whilst every legislature has parties with elected members divided between those earning their crust as solid constituency working types with backbench profiles and another set of more technically conscious and articulate representatives more suited to the callings of office, Sinn Fein has built its success to date on the grassroots activism giving rise to a higher proportion of the former within its elected ranks than the latter.

This shortcoming has been compounded by the party’s salary cap policy which has acted as a disincentive to both potential elected representatives and (crucially) political advisers who could have helped address the skills deficit within the party’s ranks.

Thus, a strategy which aims to broaden the number of its elected representatives with the experience of holding office can only be a good thing, strengthening the skills base within the party at a time when the electoral woes of its primary electoral opponent (the SDLP) has reduced that party to a mere fourteen MLAs, just about enough to cover each ministerial office with little change left. Furthermore, the loss of experienced personnel from  the SDLP’s ranks- like Declan O’Loan and Tommy Gallagher- has meant that this strategy could further widen the gulf between the parties.

Therefore, my guesstimate would be that Mitchel McLaughlin be brought in to head DETI, with Sinn Fein’s second choice used up for Martina Anderson as either DCAL or Social Development Minister. By the time the third choice comes around, I can only speculate about the type of pickings that will be left, but I’d envisage John O’Dowd being given a chance to step up to the plate. That would leave the Junior Minister position for the party to ponder and, knowing the ever gender conscious nature of the party, I’d anticipate either Michelle O’Neill or Caral ni Chuilin getting the call on that one.

Of course, this is only speculation….but that’s why it’s fun!