Assembly Election

Conor Murphy tipped to be Sinn Féin's first minister at Stormont

Conor Murphy and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA pictured speaking to the media in the Great Hall, Stormont, last June

FORMER water minister Conor Murphy is tipped to head up the Department of Economy as Sinn Féin look to take a finance portfolio for the first time, the Irish News understands.

Choosing Economy however, means that Sinn Féin would hand education to the DUP and face a possible reversal of its decision to end government support for 11-plus tests.

Negotiations are expected to begin tomorrow to finalise a programme for government between the two big parties and work out who gets what seats at the executive table.

The ‘Fresh Start’ deal means that there are just seven seats to share between the four largest parties, with justice expected to remain with Alliance.

Under the D'Hondt system of allocation the DUP will take three, Sinn Féin two and the Ulster Unionists and SDLP one each.

The DUP is expected to opt for finance with its first pick. It is understood Sinn Féin strategists are considering economy, leaving education available for the DUP which has the third pick.

It would be the first time Sinn Féin has held a finance, economy or business portfolio since devolution in 1999.

A senior Stormont source said Conor Murphy, a former MP for Newry and Armagh, has been linked to the economy post for Sinn Féin.

Mr Murphy was criticised for the NI Water crisis while minister for regional development during the winter of 2010/11.

DUP leader Arlene Foster, who returns as first minister, has spoken of her party's desire to take charge of the new-look education and agriculture departments.

Both the Ulster Unionist and SDLP have yet to decide whether to enter the executive or opt for opposition.

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Assembly Election