Independent unionist Claire Sugden agrees to be Stormont justice minister

Appointment of 29-year-old East Derry MLA allows Executive to be formed

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness  with new  Minister of Justice Claire Sugden at Stormont. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with new Minister of Justice Claire Sugden at Stormont. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

 
Stormont

become Minister of Justice was resolved in the Assembly chamber yesterday.

The East Derry Independent unionist MLA Claire Sugden (29) agreed to become the North’s Minister of Justice after she was nominated by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. She succeeds Alliance leader David Ford.

Her appointment allowed the d’Hondt system of appointing Ministers based on the proportional strength of parties to be triggered and the fourth Northern Executive since 1999 to be formed.

The Executive is dominated by the DUP and Sinn Féin after the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP, who were each entitled to one ministry in the new administration, decided to go into formal Opposition. Alliance rejected the offer of again taking on justice because it failed to gain concessions on issues such as the Assembly vetoing system and integrated education.

In addition to the posts of First Minister and Deputy First Minister, there were eight ministries and two junior ministries to be filled yesterday. The DUP took over four departments and a junior post and Sinn Féin took on three full departments and a junior post.

Under d’Hondt the DUP had first pick with Strangford MLA Simon Hamilton taking over the Department of the Economy. Sinn Féin South Belfast MLA Mairtín Ó Muilleoir was appointed as Minister of Finance, the first time a Sinn Féin politician has held this post.

DUP MLA Peter Weir took on education and Sinn Féin MLA Chris Hazzard was appointed Minister of Infrastructure.

DUP MLA Michelle McIlveen took over the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs while DUP MLA Paul Givan was appointed Minister of Communities. Sinn Féin MLA Michelle O’Neill took on the Department of Health.

The junior posts went to DUP MLA Alastair Ross and to the Sinn Féin MLA, Megan Fearon who, at 24, is the youngest Assembly member.

The formation of the Executive hinged on whether the Justice portfolio could be filled. Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers had warned that failure to appoint a minister of justice could result in another election.

Ms Sugden, who is two years in the Assembly, said it was “probably the most difficult decision” of her life and had “caused her a lot of anxiety”. But it was an opportunity for her, her constituents and the North.

First Minister Arlene Foster said Ms Sugden would be a Minister for “all the people” while Mr McGuinness said he had “every confidence in her ability” to take on “this onerous responsibility”.