Ford angered by proposal to cut Alliance ministry


ALLIANCE LEADER David Ford has accused Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness of engaging in a “political carve-up” after they tabled proposals that would deprive Alliance of one of its two ministries in the Executive.

DUP First Minister Mr Robinson and Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness late on Tuesday night put forward proposals that would allow Mr Ford to retain his post as Minister for Justice but would result in Alliance’s Stephen Farry losing his position as Minister for Employment and Learning .

Under the proposals, the Department of Employment and Learning will be subsumed into the Department of Education held by Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Industry, held by the DUP’s Arlene Foster.

Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness called for the reduction of the Executive from 11 to 10 ministries after what they called “lengthy discussions and negotiations” between the parties failed to lead to an agreement on the future composition of the Executive.

In a compromise deal, Mr Ford was appointed Minister for Justice in April 2010 when policing and justice powers were transferred from Westminster to Stormont. Under a so-called sunset clause, that appointment runs out at the end of April.

Mr Ford was appointed on a special cross-community vote, while the other 10 Ministers were appointed under the D’Hondt system where departments are allocated on the basis of political strength.

This however resulted in Alliance, which won 51,000 votes in last year’s Assembly elections, having two ministries, while the SDLP, which won 94,000 votes and the Ulster Unionist Party, which won 88,000 votes, took just one department each.

Under the proposals from the First and Deputy First Ministers, Mr Ford would be reappointed on a cross-community vote as Minister for Justice at the end of April but Mr Farry would lose out.

The D’Hondt mechanism for appointing other Ministers also would be rerun, which could mean party and personnel changes at the nine departments.

Alliance and the other parties have been requested by Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness to respond to the proposals by Monday evening.

In the absence of consensus, the DUP and Sinn Féin have sufficient seats in the Northern Assembly to ensure their proposals are carried.

Mr Ford said while the party generally supported reducing the overall size of the Executive, he believed the proposal to abolish the Department of Employment and Learning was deliberately designed to target the Alliance Party.

“If they can change the system – not in any rational coherent way – but simply to spite us, then is there any reason why we shouldn’t assume that they will take justice off us, as soon as it suits them,” said Mr Ford.

“This is a political carve-up, it is nothing to do with good government,” he said, adding that Alliance would consider its next moves over the coming days.