Parties begin talks to form new Stormont government

A new talks process is about to begin at Stormont to determine the shape of the new power-sharing government.

Parties begin talks to form new Stormont government

A new talks process is about to begin at Stormont to determine the shape of the new power-sharing government.

Northern Ireland's newly-elected MLAs have up to two weeks to thrash out priorities for a programme for government and establish which parties will take on ministerial portfolios.

Smaller parties such as the SDLP and Ulster Unionists will also have to decide whether to leave the Executive and form an official opposition - a provision established under last year's Fresh Start Agreement.

North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon said the SDLP would be part of the negotiations but would not confirm whether they would stay in government.

She said: "We will be talking to other parties and we will wait to see what the content of the programme for government is

"If the content is strong and if it delivers on some of our key pledges then yes, we will be in government."

"If it does not, we will need to reflect upon that and consider our position."

Robin Swan, who was returned as an MLA in North Antrim, was equally non-committal, adding that the UUP "do not want to be part of more of the same".

"We want to see what is in the discussions," he said.

"We want to see what each party is putting on the table for the programme for government.

"Each party put out a manifesto, we want to see what makes up the final programme for government and see if the other parties are genuinely committed."

There have also been structural changes with the number of departments cut from 12 to nine, including the new Department for Communities, Department for the Economy and Department for Infrastructure.

Of the 108 candidates elected to Stormont, the DUP has 38, Sinn Féin 28, the Ulster Unionists 16, the SDLP 12, Alliance eight, PBPA two, Greens two, with the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) and independent Claire Sugden winning one each.

The figure of 38 seats won by the DUP is the same number it secured in 2011 in an election which many, including party strategists, viewed as a one-off historic high water mark.

Sinn Féin's 28 seats result was one short of its tally in 2011. It was also shy of the significant 30-seat threshold that would have handed the republican party extra power to veto Assembly legislation using the controversial "petition of concern".

The SDLP, the once dominant power within nationalism, has dropped two seats on its 2011 tally.

Although the UUP repeated the 16-seat haul of 2011, it did not make the inroads leader Mike Nesbitt had confidently predicted.

For the Alliance Party, which also won eight seats in 2011, it was also a case of "as you were".

Whatever the exact make-up of the next power-sharing administration, it is sure to face vocal criticism from the tough-talking socialists Gerry Carroll and Eamonn McCann who secured two seats for the People Before Profit Alliance.

They will join political polar opposite Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice in the so-called "naughty corner" of the chamber.

Mr Allister, an arch-critic of the last administration, retained his seat but failed to bring any colleagues in.

The Green Party also secured two seats in the new mandate, with party leader Steven Agnew and Clare Bailey winning through in South Belfast.

Claire Sugden, who was co-opted during the last term into the seat held by the late independent David McClarty, also won a berth at Parliament Buildings in her own right.

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