Lunn laments ‘sectarian stand-off’ between DUP and SF on justice post

The Alliance Party's newly elected MLAs... will one of them soon be the new Justice Minister?
The Alliance Party's newly elected MLAs... will one of them soon be the new Justice Minister?

An Alliance MLA has accused the Province’s two main parties of “arrogance” in expecting his party to “bail them out” by accepting the contentious Ministry of Justice job.

Trevor Lunn was speaking on Monday night, 72 hours ahead of a crunch meeting of his party which is expected to decide whether or not Alliance is willing to accept the role – or whether it will follow the UUP in rejecting a place on the Executive.

Stormont, with Carson's statue in the foreground

Stormont, with Carson's statue in the foreground

Meanwhile on Monday night, First Minister Arlene Foster categorically ruled out any Sinn Fein figure for the job, telling UTV: “We will not be supporting a Sinn Fein justice minister – we’re very clear about that.”

The UUP decided to give up the one seat it was entitled to on the Executive last Thursday.

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone indicated that his party remains undecided on whether to take up its sole Executive seat, or commit to Opposition.

Asked which option he would consider more likely if he were a betting man, he said simply: “I’m not a betting man.”

Whilst the Alliance Party does not have enough MLAs to automatically entitle it to a ministerial seat, it has held control of the justice ministry since 2010 because the role requires cross-community support.

Mr Lunn said: “It worries me that, 18 years after the Good Friday Agreement, we still can’t pick a justice minister in a normal way.”

It is understood that there is a meeting of the Alliance Party’s MLAs today (Tuesday).

There will then be a gathering of the party council on Thursday night at the Park Avenue Hotel.

This is comprised of its elected politicians as well as ordinary members from its various Province-wide branches.

Mr Lunn, MLA for Lagan Valley since 2007, said he expects a decision about the party’s future role to be made then, unless more information comes forward about the draft Programme for Government – a programme which he said is currently “vague” and “a bit thin”.

He refused to be drawn on whether he has a personal preference for staying in or out of the Executive.

Nor could Mr Lunn reveal who could potentially be in the running to take up the post of justice minister since party leader David Ford had previously ruled himself out – except to say it is unlikely to be himself.

Asked how much hinges on their decision to stay in or out, he said: “I’ll tell you this much – it worries me that, 18 years after the Good Friday Agreement, we still can’t pick a justice minister in a normal way, just like any other ministry.

“It’s disappointing there’s still such a sectarian stand-off between the two big parties no matter how much they profess to co-operate with each other, that they can’t agree on somebody to be justice minister.”

He said it was a question of “whether we can continually bail them out, or tell them to get on with it – and that’s the decision that has to be taken on Thursday”.

He accused the two main parties of “arrogance”, adding: “There’s an expectation on their behalf that we will help them out again ... For some reason people think that the sort of lure of power – ministry or opposition – will be too strong to resist.”

While he praised Mr Ford for his work in the justice role, he said it was a “tough ministry”, adding that it has been hit hard with budget cuts.

Sinn Fein and the DUP were invited to comment on Monday night, but had not responded by time of going to press.

Shape of government:

Since the 2011 election, the number of Stormont departments has been cut from 12 to nine.

Setting aside the roles of First and Deputy First Minister (taken by the DUP and Sinn Fein, respectively), the recent election results meant that the DUP were entitled to hold three ministries on the Executive, Sinn Fein two, and the SDLP and UUP one each.

Since the UUP has given up their seat, the DUP will instead take it.

This leaves one seat uncertain – the justice ministry.

Holding this requires cross-community support.

Other small-scale players in the Assembly could also be considered for the post if Alliance decide they do not want it.

They could include a Green MLA or independent unionist Claire Sugden (East Londonderry); however, they have much less electoral support than Alliance.