Issues

New challenge for new Executive

Northern-Ireland-Executive---May-2016

Ministers have been appointed to a new look Stormont Executive following a shake up and reduction of departments. A mixture of fresh and experienced faces take on a new challenge in the face of an official opposition posed by the UUP and SDLP, who passed up the opportunity to share power.

Voted the largest party in Northern Ireland on May 5, the DUP has taken up positions on four of the eight Stormont Departments (excluding the Executive Office), Sinn Féin is heading three and the justice portfolio has been taken up by Independent Unionist Claire Sugden.

The agreement of Sugden, formerly of the UUP, to accept the position paved the way for the Executive’s creation after the Alliance Party refused the role, often seen as too contentious for any of the main nationalist or unionist parties to control, and chose instead to enter opposition.

parliament-buildings-new3Discussion over the Department of Justice was left to the DUP and Sinn Féin after both the UUP and the SDLP announced that they would not be taking up their positions within the power-sharing Executive, opting for official opposition.

Early indications present a new form of dialogue from the Executive, a united front and a new way of doing things, pointing towards an acknowledgement that they and Sugden will be solely accountable for the actions of government for the next five years.

At the top, Arlene Foster successfully led her party to top the election poll in her first time as leader in an Assembly election, granting her the right to take up position as First Minister. Sinn Féin put forward Martin McGuinness to resume his role as deputy First Minister, while Alastair Ross of the DUP and Megan Fearon of Sinn Féin were given roles as Junior Ministers.

Party preferences also seem to have altered, with the DUP relinquishing the departments of health and finance which they held in the last Executive to Sinn Féin, while taking over in Education from their coalition partners.

With an average age of just 41, the new Executive has no room for many familiar faces from previous administrations. Sinn Féin has continued its policy of rotating its ministers, with just Michelle O’Neill being reappointed from the last mandate switching from the former Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) to become Minister for Health.

The DUP’s Michelle McIlveen has taken on O’Neill’s previous role, now known as the Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (DAERA), while Simon Hamilton has been rewarded for previous positions as Finance Minister and Health Minister by being named as Minister for the Economy.

Chris Hazzard of Sinn Féin and Paul Givan of the DUP are two new faces taking up the newly formed Department for Infrastructure (DfI) and Department for Communities (DfC) respectively.

Both Peter Weir and Máirtín Ó Muilleoir can be considered veterans of their respective parties. Now in his fourth term as an Assembly member, Weir has been rewarded for his service with the education brief. Ó Muilleoir on the other hand only challenged and won his first Assembly election in May, having been co-opted to the South Belfast constituency in 2014. However, a successful standing on Belfast City Council including a term as Lord Mayor, has propelled him up the party ranks and seen him appointed Minister for Finance.

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