The North’s political leaders will today face the first challenge in implementing the landmark agreement to save the region’s power-sharing government.
Democratic Unionist First Minister Peter Robinson and Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are due to meet to consider who will become Stormont’s first justice minister in 38 years.
But that process already looks like being far from straightforward after the politician tipped to take on the role yesterday cast doubt on whether he would accept the post.
Leader of the Alliance Party David Ford said the ruling DUP/Sinn Féin coalition would have to do more to tackle sectarian divisions before he would put his name forward.
As part of the broad-ranging deal on law and order devolution and parade management announced on Friday, Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness are scheduled to hold talks with the leaders of the Assembly’s minor parties to examine applications for the new ministry.
Both main parties have agreed not to nominate candidates from within their own ranks.
And while the Ulster Unionists and SDLP have greater electoral strength within the Assembly, the non-aligned Alliance Party is considered the only one that could achieve the necessary cross-community backing of both the DUP and Sinn Féin in a vote.
But Mr Ford has insisted his party is not yet in a position to apply for the post, claiming policies for the new ministry have not been properly outlined.
He is also unhappy that Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness have still not published a long-delayed strategy to tackle division in North society.
“On the basis of a leaders’ meeting tomorrow there would not be an Alliance nomination,” he said yesterday.
“If things change then things may change. But the current position is that we have not seen enough movement around a community relations strategy and around getting all the policies that we believe should be implemented by a department of justice.”
Both the Ulster Unionists and SDLP have criticised the notion of Alliance being the DUP and Sinn Féin’s preferred choice, accusing the main parties of “gerrymandering” the selection.
The current 11 ministries in the Executive were allocated using the D’Hondt system.
If that process was re-run, instead of the cross-community vote in the Assembly, the SDLP would be given an extra ministry. However, in that case the justice post may well end up in the Ulster Unionists’ hands as they would pick their preferred portfolio before the nationalist party.
Both the UUP and SDLP favour retaining the D’Hondt system.
Under the terms of the Hillsborough Agreement, justice powers are set to be devolved from Westminster to Stormont on April 12.
However a number of matters, including the selection of a minister and proposed changes to parade management process, need to be resolved before that can go ahead.