Northern Ireland

Pressure mounts on Naomi Long as Sinn Féin rules out running Stormont ministers in Westminster election

Justice minister could face criticism if she leaves post to contest East Belfast

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long
Alliance leader and Justice Minister Naomi Long (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sinn Féin has ruled out running any of its Stormont ministers as candidates in the forthcoming Westminster election.

Confirmation that none of the party’s executive members will contest the general election ends speculation that Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald and Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd would run in East Derry and Upper Bann, respectively.

However, the move seemingly puts greater pressure on Justice Minister Naomi Long, making any bid by the Alliance leader’s to run in East Belfast much more conspicuous.

Alliance has said a final decision on candidacies “will be decided by members and announced at the appropriate time”.

Minister of Health Robin Swann said a planned strike by junior doctors would affect thousands
Health Minister Robin Swann. PICTURE: DAVID YOUNG/PA

Health Minister Robin Swann has already confirmed that he will be the Ulster Unionists’ candidate in South Antrim. Mr Swann has said he will step down from his ministerial role once the general election campaign begins.

Former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, who was recently appointed as the private secretary to the health minister, is widely expected to replace Mr Swann at the executive table.

The health minister’s selection as UUP candidate in South Antrim, which was made just days before the institutions were restored in February, has drawn significant criticism.

Dr Tom Black, British Medical Association’s NI Council chair, said he was “disappointed” that the minister planned to step down once campaigning commenced, arguing that the health service needed “consistency and focus”.

Speaking on Monday, Mrs Long said the health minister’s pledge to step down from his post while campaigning did not pressurise her as discussions about who Alliance’s candidate in East Belfast will be were “still ongoing”.

“Those are not finalised at this point in time,” she said.

“I will make my decision as will the party when it’s right for us, not in the wake of any decisions made by the Ulster Unionist Party or Robin Swann,” she said.

Mrs Long said no decision on whether she would step aside as a minister had been made, as her candidacy had yet to be confirmed.

Elsewhere, there is a possibility that Education Minister Paul Givan will be selected as the DUP’s Lagan Valley candidate, following Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s shock resignation as DUP leader last month.

Upper Bann MLA Jonathan Buckley has also been mooted as a potential DUP candidate for Lagan Valley, the constituency to which Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly was co-opted after Sir Jeffrey secured an assembly seat in May 2022.

The DUP has so far declined to say whether any of its executive ministers plan to run as candidates in the forthcoming general election.

Sinn Féin confirmed to The Irish News that non of its executive ministers plan to run, while Alliance said the party’s current focus was on “stabilising our departments, setting the direction of travel for the mandate and securing appropriate budget settlements”.

Irish News columnist and Slugger O’Toole deputy editor David McCann said that in previous Westminster elections, Stormont ministers had run “without any issue”.

“This time, however, due to Stormont just returning it is more complicated,” he said.

“Parties will be mindful of appearing to have one foot in and one foot out of the executive.”