Sugden appointment a ‘corruption of Good Friday Agreement’ - Nesbitt

Mike Nesbitt gives his reaction to the appointment of ministers to the NI Executive
Mike Nesbitt gives his reaction to the appointment of ministers to the NI Executive

Claire Sugden’s appointment as justice minister has been met by an expected wave of criticism from Stormont’s opposition benches.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt branded it a “corruption” of the Good Friday Agreement, insisting ministerial seats should be allocated on the basis of party strength.

He also referred to a speech made by Ms Sugden last year when she described Stormont’s leaders as “jokers” in a falling “house of cards”.

“We are not in favour of this, because it is a corruption of the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.

“The person who said: ‘This house of cards is falling, and good will come of that only if the jokers at the top come crashing down too and do not get up again’ is our new Justice Minister, who is propping them up again.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he wished Ms Sugden well on personal basis but said he could not support her appointment politically.

He insisted the D’Hondt formula should have been used to allocate the ministry.

The Foyle MLA added: “What is even more disturbing is that, even though we have had some evolution in our politics this last few weeks, the opportunity to evolve our politics even further today has been missed. It is very clear to our electorate that this is a position for which no nationalist need apply.”

The Alliance Party turned down the chance to resume its tenure in the justice department after the DUP and Sinn Fein rejected a number of its preconditions relating to political reforms. Party leader David Ford said he was concerned Ms Sugden did not appear to have made demands of her own.

“I am certainly well aware of the major issues that are faced by the Department of Justice, the massive issues that confront that department over budget, Programme for Government, the specific issues for justice and the ongoing issue of reforms that have been put in place over the last few years and that need to be continued,” he said.

“The fact that the new minister has, at least, a lack of public preconditions gives me some concern as to how that will be carried through.”

Green Party leader Steven Agnew, who had at one stage been mooted as a potential justice minister, said the DUP and Sinn Fein’s refusal to support the other in the post represented a lost opportunity to “normalise” politics.

“I question why, in 2016, we are still treating Justice differently and maintaining a provision that says: ‘We have to keep them-uns out’,” he said.

He added: “We still treat Justice differently, and that sends a signal that we are not ready to move on. That is a shame.”

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister, an arch critic of the DUP/Sinn Fein coalition, described Ms Sugden as “able, likeable and affable”.

But he criticised her decision to accept the offer from Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness - leaders he refers to with the portmanteau nickname of ‘Marlene’.

“Today, for the sake of office, she is willing to become the patsy of the jokers,” he claimed.

“That says a lot about this position - seduced into office by the jokers. Less than two weeks ago, Ms Sugden boasted in the House that she was an independent. No longer, I am afraid.

“Today, she has become the place woman of Marlene. Whether or not she finds making up the numbers on the dark side as fulfilling as she thinks, time alone will tell.”