SF lines out Six-County Ministerial team

Sinn Fein has confirmed its team of ministers for the Belfast executive, with South Down Assembly member Caitriona Ruane to take on the education post, Fermanagh-South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew to look after agriculture, and Newry & Armagh MP Conor Murphy heading up regional development.

Gerry Kelly, the party’s former policing and justice spokesman, will become a junior minister within the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister. His colleague, Alex Maskey, will be taking over as Sinn Fein spokesman on Policing and Justice issues and is set to join the Policing Board in the summer.

Sinn Fein has meanwhile nominated Francie Molloy for consideration as deputy speaker, a post he held in the previous assembly, while John O’Dowd is to become chair of the Assembly’s important Finance committee.

Deputy First Minister-elect Martin McGuinness said the Sinn Fein nominees would meet their departments, as well as groups and individuals with a special interests in their areas, in the coming weeks.

“We want to listen to people and learn from their experience so that we will all hit the ground running on May 8,” Mr McGuinness said.

On Monday, the leaders of the four main parties announced how the ministerial portfolios will be shared in the new power-sharing executive. The announcement followed an informal execution by the parties of the process for allocating positions on the Executive.

DUP leader Ian Paisley had the first pick of the departments under the d’Hondt formula, which uses assembly seats won by parties to calculate ministerial entitlement. Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams had second choice.

The DUP took first took the finance portfolio, followed by economy, environment and culture. While DUP Peter Robinson is set to become the new Six County Minister for Finance, the party has yet to allocate the other positions. It is believed that DUP Assembly member for Foyle, William Hay, will be the new speaker of the house, replacing the speaker of the transitional Assembly, Eileen Bell.

The Ulster Unionists took health and employment and learning, while the SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie will be nominated as Minister for Social Development.

Sinn Fein’s choice of the Department of Education as ‘top pick’ came as a surprise to commentators, although Martin McGuinness previously held the post before the collapse of power-sharing in 2002.

“The whole issue of education is obviously a huge challenge for whoever takes the position there is a lot of unfinished business to be dealt with,” he said.

There are two controversial issues facing a new minister - the future of the 11+ selection for post primary schools and the prospect of naming hundreds of schools for closure because of a shortage of pupils.

Sammy Wilson of the DUP said there are many battles ahead for Sinn Fein in education, but he said his party had ensured safeguards were in place to prevent “any rogue education minister” implementing policies that the DUP does not support.

Speaking at Stormont, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the party was working to “clear away any problems which may exist, and to be as well prepared for government as we can be”.

Introducing his party’s Ministerial team, Mr Adams said the five “will all make excellent Ministers”.

“It is clear that all of the parties are determined to restore the political institutions and to take up the many challenges that face people in their daily lives.

“It is now our collective responsibility to deliver on services for the elderly, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged, as well as developing and delivering programmes of work to rebuild our infrastructure and economy.

Mr Adams said he was confident that the Sinn Fein team would deliver on the commitments it made in the recent election in the North.

Meanwhile, British Direct Ruler Peter Hain -- set to lose his powers of direct rule to the new executive in May -- described the dealings in Belfast as “further evidence” of the “very positive approach” that the parties were taking.

Mr Hain promised to give ministers-in-waiting access to their departments.

At the weekend he also agreed to a request from Mr Paisley and Mr McGuinness to hand over offices at Stormont Castle. The request, in the form of a letter signed by the two leaders, represented the first joint act of the future heads of the new Six County administration.

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