“The real horse trading [over Justice Ministry] is likely to happen between party leaders…”

And only two parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin have the necessary votes to trade…   ANYhoo, as I mentioned during the Sinn Féin ard fheis when the deputy chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Justice Committee, and noted plagiarist, Raymond McCartney complained that “David Ford’s department [of Justice] is like Jurassic Park.”

…if Sinn Féin aren’t happy with David Ford as Northern Ireland Justice Minister then they, and the DUP, can always find someone else to agree on…

They, both parties, have to agree on someone by 1 May 2012.

Technically, as I pointed out here, the options available to the Assembly would seem to be (1) continue with the current system of cross-community vote to appoint a NI Justice Minister, (2) replace the current system with an agreed system of appointing a NI Justice Minister(s) [various options available, default system D’Hondt], (3) “provide for the department to be in the charge of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister acting jointly”.

But the NI Assembly must choose one of those options by 1 May 2012.  And if they wish to continue with the current system it has to be on the basis of a cross-community vote.

Otherwise the NI Justice department will be dissolved on 1 May 2012.

Today, as Mark Devenport informs us, “with six months to go until the potential dissolution of the department we still don’t know how the matter will be resolved.”

The real horse trading is likely to happen between party leaders, but Stormont’s Assembly Executive and Review Committee has been asked to formally review the options. The parties have submitted their preferences ahead of a committee meeting next week.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP want the justice job to be handed out like all the other portfolios, according to the d’Hondt proportional system. The Ulster Unionists say the review should provide an opportunity to reduce the number of Stormont departments.

The Greens say the position in which Alliance holds twice the number of departments as a party with double the number of MLAs is “undemocratic” and the appointment process should now be “normalised”.

The DUP supports either continuing the current cross-community vote or bringing justice into the d’Hondt handout, under certain conditions. The DUP acknowledges that Alliance’s two places in the executive “gives rise to unfairness” in comparison to the UUP and the SDLP. The party’s submission says that any change should be subject to a reduction in the number and reorganisation of Stormont’s departments.

And the party whose leader currently holds the Justice Minister’s post?  Mark Devenport again.

Not surprisingly the current incumbents, Alliance, are most enthusiastic about continuing the current cross-community compromise.

Indeed.  Although they appear to be a little sensitive to the charge of self-interest

 In order to deflect any potential criticism that they wish to hang on to justice for self-interest, the Alliance leader David Ford uses his submission to offer to resign or face a motion of no confidence in May next year, so the assembly can – if it wishes – elect a new minister.

An offer which becomes the ultimate political self-sacrifice in the BBC report’s headline – “David Ford will resign to save devolution of justice”.

Hardly.  In circumstances where the DUP and Sinn Féin agreed to continue with the current [cross-community vote] system to elect the next NI Justice Minister – i.e. the conditions under which the offer has been made – just whom, or which party, does he imagine they would have already agreed to support in the post?

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