Ford says Alliance could take justice role again if deal is right

David Ford at the election count on Friday
David Ford at the election count on Friday

Erstwhile leader of the Alliance Party David Ford has indicated that the party is not opposed to putting someone forward to take the role of justice minister in any new Executive.

Mr Ford was speaking after he confounded expectations by surging ahead to confidently reclaim his South Antrim seat once more on Friday night; a seat which it was thought he could lose.

In fact, in terms of first-preference votes, he came in a comfortable third.

He attributed his rebounded fortunes to the fact that he was no longer the justice minister himself, and therefore had more time to spend on local matters.

He said he now had “time to do things in the constituency I simply didn’t have time to do when I was minister”.

He had held the post from 2016 to 2016 (when independent unionist Claire Sugden took over), and the leadership of Alliance from 2001 to 2016 (when Naomi Long took over).

It is a contentious role which involves overseeing all policing and court matters, and the DUP has previously made clear its opposition to Sinn Fein holding the post. Alliance refused to fill it last time.

On whether Alliance could be tempted back to take it, Mr Ford – speaking before the full results of the election were known – said: “The issue for Alliance in the Executive will be just the same as it was last year.

“We put forward proposals for what we thought needed to be done for the good of Northern Ireland; to make reforms to the way the Assembly worked, and to concentrate on issues like building a shared future, promoting things like integrated education.

“If we’d had agreement from the then-First Minister and Deputy First Minister, we would probably have provided them with a justice minister.

“But they didn’t agree.

We’ll have to see what possible negotiations happen over the next two to three weeks...

“We could be potentially but it would not be an issue of just getting a ministerial car or seat round the Executive table.

“It’ll be an issue [of] what we think of the policies of the Executive are what will make a difference for Northern Ireland.”

However, he said it would probably not be him, saying: “I think it’s unlikely I’ll be going back because I’ve seven at least colleagues who’d be quite capable of taking on a ministerial post... I’ve got enough to do on the back benches and in the committee thanks very much.”