SDLP accuse Sinn Féin of giving justice 'triple lock' to unionism
SINN Féin was last night accused of handing unionism a "triple lock" on justice after nationalism was sidelined in the administration and scrutiny of the department's functions.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the appointment of independent unionist Claire Sugden as justice minister and the subsequent choice of two DUP MLAs to head the corresponding committee represented a "roll over on power sharing in a critical department".
The new justice minister and her department will be scrutinised by a committee chaired by North Antrim MLA Paul Frew, with the deputy's seat filled by his party colleague Pam Cameron. The move follows First Minister Arlene Foster's recent insistence that she would not tolerate a Sinn Féin justice minister.
Mr Eastwood said the three unionist appointments would have far-reaching consequences for the nationalist community.
"It has been made clear to the nationalist community today that so long as Sinn Féin and the DUP dominate the government, the office of justice minister is one for which no nationalist need apply," the Foyle MLA said.
"But not content with capitulating to the de facto demand for a unionist justice minister, Sinn Féin have conceded on a triple lock for unionism on justice."
Mr Eastwood said Sinn Féin conceding the justice ministry and committee places at the outset of the mandate did not "bode well for the next five years".
But Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy said the SDLP leader's comments were "rich coming from a so-called nationalist party who expressed no interest in the department of justice" or any other portfolios.
"We are in control of finance, health, and infrastructure and Martin McGuinness is a co-equal first minister – the SDLP are not even in control of opposition," he said.
"We will not take any lectures from a party which has walked away from its responsibilities and which is making no positive contribution."