The Alliance Party leader David Ford has indicated that either Naomi Long or Minister for Employment and Learning Stephen Farry will be the Minister of Justice in the next Northern Executive should his party take on the portfolio.
Mr Ford after launching the Alliance Party's Northern Assembly election manifesto in east Belfast on Tuesday said he was standing by his decision not to return to the Executive after the election.
Mr Ford, who is seeking re-election in South Antrim, said he had no plans to stand down as Alliance leader.
Under the D’Hondt proportional system of allocating ministries on the basis of party strength, bigger parties such as the DUP and Sinn Féin would have first choice of the justice department.
However, because of the mutual distrust between the unionist and nationalist parties it seems certain that the compromise that operated in the last Assembly will be applied again with Alliance taking on the department.
Mr Ford (65) indicated that either former MP Ms Long, who is seeking to be elected in East Belfast or Mr Farry were likely to be the chief candidates for the justice post.
“I have made it quite clear I am not seeking renomination as justice Minister. I think at my age and after six years in one of the most demanding jobs in the Executive it’s quite right that some of the other talent in the Alliance party should have the opportunity to step into it,” he said.
And referring to Ms Long and Mr Farry, who also attended the manifesto launch in the Park Avenue Hotel, he added, “I think you saw at least two other potential candidates for a ministry this morning.”
Mr Ford added however that there was no guarantee that Alliance would take on the justice department even though it is unlikely that there would be the necessary cross-party agreement for anyone from the DUP, Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionist Party or the SDLP to take on the role.
“If we get agreement around a programme for government then we will be prepared to consider putting forward an Alliance name. But there is no point in us providing a Minister just to go running errands for other people. We will be looking to have a Minister who can deliver and continue delivering on the programme for government,” said Mr Ford.
Alliance currently has eight seats and, according to Mr Ford, could make “five or six potential gains”. It is standing 23 candidates across the 18 six-seater constituencies.
He indicated that realistically the party was aiming for up to 11 seats – “maybe more on a good day” – that would allow the party as of right to be in a position under the D’Hondt system to be allocated a ministry in the next Executive which will have nine departments. The current Executive has 13 departments.
The Alliance manifesto focuses on creating a "shared future" in Northern Ireland and on combatting republican and loyalist paramilitarism. It called for a "collective commitment across the Executive to tackling all paramilitary and organised crime groups".
Referring to the murder in north Belfast of Michael McGibbon in a so-called punishment shooting Mr Ford said: “This week has seen another murder on our streets, once again bearing all the hallmarks of a paramilitary attack. Eighteen years after the Good Friday Agreement it has never been more vital to remove the poison of paramilitarism.”
The Alliance leader said his party was committed to building an integrated society.
“We want to see integrated education, mixed housing and the removal of interface barriers so people can live and learn, work and play together.
“We also want to remove the cost of division, which costs us hundreds of millions of pounds each year. We will reinvest that money in areas that need it such as health, skills and protecting the vulnerable.”