Assembly Election

Negotiations on Stormont policy blueprint to begin within days

There are seven ministerial posts – plus justice – up for grabs in the new slimline executive. Picture by Paul Faith

INTENSE negotiations aimed at finalising Stormont's five-year Programme for Government are expected to begin tomorrow ahead of nominations late next week for seats on the new look executive.

Under new rules, the parties will outline their policy priorities before running the D'Hondt system to allocate seven ministerial posts, plus the justice portfolio.

With 38 MLAs elected last Thursday, the DUP will again have the first minister's post along with first pick of the Stormont departments.

The party has always opted for the finance portfolio as its number one choice and there is little suggest it will veer from that course this time around. Former finance and health minister Simon Hamilton has again been earmarked for the DUP ministerial team, though fellow Strangford MLAs Jonathan Bell and Michelle McIlveen are unlikely to make the cut.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has recently spoken publicly about her party's desire to take charge of the new-look education and agriculture departments. However, if Ms Foster was to secure the education portfolio while remaining in charge of Stormont's purse strings, Sinn Féin would first have to overlook a ministry it has held since 1999.

However, there has been widespread speculation that Sinn Féin will use its first choice to take charge of the new Department of the Economy in an effort to capitalise on what it hopes will be the harmonisation of the corporation tax rate on both sides of the border. The party's former regional development minister Conor Murphy has been tipped for the economy job.

Sinn Féin will have a choice of one further department in the new slimline executive, with party policy dictating that this will be filled by a female. Former agriculture ministers Michelle Gildernew and Michelle O'Neill are both contenders for the party's ministerial jobs.

Mike Nesbitt has long voiced his desire for the education portfolio, though as the DUP has two choices of ministry ahead of the Ulster Unionists, he concedes this is unlikely.

Speaking to The Irish News on Sunday night, the UUP leader said: "If we are going to go in then we will not bypass education were it to be available.

"But I don't expect that scenario to arise given what the DUP leader has indicated recently."

The SDLP's 12 MLAs entitle the party to the final ministerial choice.

Party leader Colum Eastwood told The Irish News that he had yet to decide whether to join the executive and would base his decision on the outcome of the Programme for Government negotiations.

"At the moment our priority is getting a strong Programme for Government and seeing evidence of a collective will to implement it," he said.

"If we don't see that we'll be going into opposition."

While Alliance's eight seats do not automatically qualify it for an executive seat, the party is again expected to be handed the justice portfolio under a long-standing agreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin,

The 108 freshly elected MLAs, including 29 new faces, will travel to Parliament Buildings this morning for a reception event overseen by outgoing assembly chief executive Trevor Reaney.

How D'Hondt Runs:

1. DUP

2. Sinn Féin

3. DUP

4. UUP

5. Sinn Féin

6. DUP

7. SDLP

Assembly Election

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