09/02/2010

Justice Minister And Parading Talks Open

Northern Ireland's political leaders met at Stormont this morning to discuss nominations for the position of Justice Minister.

Nominations for the post officially opened yesterday, however a scheduled meeting between party leaders was postponed to allow the province's MPs to participate in a Commons discussion.

As select MLAs also initiated parading talks today, only the SDLP has so far put forward a name for the post of Justice Minister.

The nationalist party nominated Alban Maginness, despite having earlier mooted Margaret Ritchie for the justice role.

Ms Ritchie, the Executive's Social Development Minister, was elected SDLP leader at the weekend.

After today's meeting she said: "I repeated that the SDLP will not accept the departure from the democratic principles on the appointment of the new justice minister.

"However, on behalf of the SDLP I have agreed to participate in further bilateral meetings with the First Minister and deputy First Minister."

Ms Ritchie is set to lead a party delegation to Dublin tomorrow, when they will meet with Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin.

"The SDLP want to see the devolution of policing and justice as soon as possible and we welcome the progress mad, but we will not accept the corruption of democracy in the appointment of a minister."
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However, the party's bid for the ministerial portfolio is not thought to be strong. The eventual minister will have to attain cross-community support. Alliance, the Assembly's only non-designated party, has refused to nominate an MLA for the job.

The Liberal Democrat-aligned party is widely tipped to eventual occupy the office of justice minister. Alliance leader David Ford has renewed calls for action on shared future policy and clarification on the new justice department's remit.

His party today published a number of proposals on justice policy which it would like to see implemented.

All Stormont's MLAs are eligible for nomination.

Meanwhile, six Assembly members - three from the DUP and three from Sinn Fein - initiated parading talks today.

Unionists Jeffrey Donaldson, Stephen Moutray and Nelson McCausland have met with republicans Gerry Kelly, Michelle Gildernew and John O'Dowd, as outlined in the Hillsborough Castle Agreement.

The group has until 23 February to formulate a resolution to outstanding issues, which are capable of achieving cross-community backing.

DUP First Minister Peter Robinson and SF Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have said they will support any outcome.

It is hoped the process will result in a passable Bill.

According to reports today, the DUP has a so-called 'clever device', which the party says it will utilise to drive parading discussions.

Peter Robinson is reportedly poised to collapse the Stormont government if Sinn Fein fails to back the winding down of the Parades Commission.

It is believed this 'clever device' persuaded 14 DUP Assembly group dissenters to support the eventual justice deal last week.

(PR/BMcC)

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