DUP MP: Critics of our party are wrong about designation link to first minister

A letter from Carla Lockhart MP:

Lord Empey played a leading role in negotiating the 1998 Belfast Agreement but is wrong about its terms, writes Carla Lockhart
Lord Empey played a leading role in negotiating the 1998 Belfast Agreement but is wrong about its terms, writes Carla Lockhart

The legendary US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, famously once said “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

Twice in recent days your paper has published comments from those who seem to think they are entitled to their own facts.

In your May 10 edition former Green Party MLA, Brian Wilson wrote (see link below): “Under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement (GFA) the DUP would have had the responsibility of appointing the first minister. This responsibility was given to the largest party from the largest designation. This would have been the DUP as the largest unionist party.”

Letter to the editor

Not to be outdone, in your May 12 edition former Ulster Unionist leader, Lord Empey stated (see link below): “Under the rules negotiated in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, the first minister was to come from the largest party in the largest designation (either unionist or nationalist) and the deputy first minister from the largest party in the next largest designation (either unionist or nationalist).”

Both of these statements are clear and unambiguous. They seek to state the position as legal fact not informal convention. However, neither of these statements is correct.

I say that not as an opinion but to simply correct the record.

Paragraph 15 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement stated, “The First Minister and Deputy First Minister shall be jointly elected into office by the Assembly voting on a cross-community basis, according to 5(d)(i) above.”

Paragraph 5(d)(i) stated, “parallel consent, i.e. a majority of those members present and voting, including a majority of the unionist and nationalist designations present and voting”.

This was then incorporated in law in section 16 (3) of the Northern Ireland Act which stated, “Two candidates standing jointly shall not be elected to the two offices without the support of a majority of the members voting in the election, a majority of the designated Nationalists voting and a majority of the designated Unionists voting.”

One does not need to be a lawyer to realise that there is no mention of parties whatsoever in either text.

Neither is there anything implicit in these arrangements that any particular party from any designation would take either post.

Though unionism remains the largest designation in the assembly it seems unrealistic to imagine that Sinn Fein having won both more votes and more seats in an election would have been content to fill the deputy first minister’s position.

It is particularly disappointing that Lord Empey, as someone who played a leading role in negotiating the agreement seems oblivious to its terms.

Carla Lockhart, DUP MP, Upper Bann

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