Stormont runners and riders: who will take the Executive's top jobs?
After the meeting of party leaders yesterday afternoon, it appeared the DUP could take the reins at Finance and Education, with departments with a key role in the Windsor Framework’s trading arrangements like DAERA and Economy going to Sinn Fein.
However, the News Letter understands horse-trading was still ongoing on Friday night – with no final decisions made. As the biggest party, Sinn Fein will get the first pick of ministries.However, the first position that will be decided is the Speaker of the Assembly. It is likely the DUP’s Edwin Poots will replace the outgoing Alex Maskey.Once the Speaker and deputy speakers are elected – it’s on to the governing executive.Sinn Fein and the DUP will hold the joint ministry in the Executive Office, with Michelle O’Neill as First Minister and possibly the DUP’s Emma Little Pengelly as deputy First Minister, but Paul Givan has also been rumoured.Alliance leader Naomi Long seems certain to become the Justice Minister. The Ulster Unionist Party had their eyes on that position too, but couldn’t get the support of the DUP and Sinn Fein on Friday. There had been some speculation that Alliance might go into opposition – but that prospect has now disappeared.The DUP’s Gordon Lyons is tipped to be Finance Minister – after running economy in the last executive. Finance is a position which was once seen as one of the most powerful ministries, but not so much in recent years. The DUP will be hoping they can return the post to the powerful position it gave the party under Peter Robinson’s leadership.Robin Swann could return to the health ministry for the Ulster Unionist Party. He gained widespread popularity after leading Northern Ireland’s health service through the coronavirus pandemic.However, he will now run for a Westminster seat in South Antrim in an attempt to unseat the DUP’s Paul Girvan – and some in the party don’t believe it’s feasible to take a ministerial post and then leave it to sit on the green benches in London. The DUP’s Paul Givan is another possible contender for this post. Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy appears favourite for the Economy brief. He is one of the party’s most experienced ministers.The post has been held by the DUP for a long time – and it gave the party the opportunity to sell Northern Ireland to the world. Having a republican in the position will be a blow to unionists – as Sinn Fein is likely to take a very different approach to promoting Northern Ireland as a unique brand.Sinn Fein would likely attempt to put an all-Ireland slant on economic development – particularly with Northern Ireland’s friction-free trading relationship with the Republic and the EU under the Windsor Framework.And despite a recent slump in the polls, there is still a realistic possibility of Sinn Fein being in government north and south – with Sinn Fein tourism ministers at both sides of the North-South ministerial council table.Former first minister Paul Givan appears to be in line for a ministerial office again – possibly as the party’s Education minister. Mr Givan is a committed devolutionist and has been keen to see Stormont restored and delivering on bread and butter issues for the public.It appears almost certain that Alliance’s Andrew Muir will pick up whichever department is still available when their turn to choose comes around.Alliance hold the justice ministry as part of special arrangements for that post – but given their growth at the last election to become the third biggest party, they will be entitled to another ministry as of right. Sinn Fein – who have one more ministry than the DUP – may want to return to Communities to run the welfare system and community grants. The SDLP’s Matthew O’Toole already accepted the position of Leader of the Opposition in July 2022. The SDLP didn’t win enough seats to get a ministry – something its Stormont leader has described as a mandate for opposition. The party have been gearing up for the role for some time – and say are determined to hold the governing parties to account.