Unionist politicians will hold the balance of power on Stormont’s new justice committee with a one-person majority, it has emerged.
Details of the committee were released on Wednesday following the transfer of policing and justice powers from London to Belfast on Monday.
The DUP holds four seats and the Ulster Unionists hold two seats with Sinn Fein having three seats and the SDLP two.
DUP chairmen Maurice Morrow will chair the new committee, with Sinn Fein’s Raymond McCartney acting as deputy chairman. The Alliance Party, whose leader David Ford is justice minister, has no seats.
On Monday, Ford took up office as Minister for Justice in the Six-County Executive after his election by cross-community vote in the Belfast Assembly.
His election was facilitated by a decision by both Sinn Fein and the DUP not to nominate a justice candidate. Without the support of the two largest parties, candidates from both the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP could not win the required votes from unionists and nationalist in the Assembly to reach the required cross-community threshold.
Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey caused surprise by proposing his deputy leader Danny Kennedy as minister for justice. It had been thought that the party, which did not back the devolution of justice powers, would not make a nomination.
The Assembly rejected Mr Kennedy’s candidacy as the vote failed to make the required cross-community standard, due to the opposition of Sinn Fein, as did the SDLP candidate, Alban Maginness, due to the opposition of the DUP.
Alliance deputy leader Naomi Long then proposed party leader David Ford as minister.
Of the 102 votes cast, 26 nationalists out of 42 voted for Mr Ford, 34 unionists out of 51 voted for and nine of nine others voted for. The vote to appoint Mr Ford was carried by the Assembly’s rule of “parallel consent”.
He affirmed the terms of the pledge of office and was accepted by the Speaker. Mr Ford said it was a key advance in the peace and political process. “I am fully conscious that I am not the unanimous choice of this Assembly but I do say to every member of this house, that we have a duty together to provide leadership and if we didn’t know that before, we sadly had a reminder of it at 12.30 this morning.
“We have a duty to show we can provide partnership, leadership and delivery, and ensure that all our people see the benefits of devolution.”
His election was welcomed by each of the party leaders in turn.
One of his first tasks is to meet his 26-County opposite number, Dublin’s Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern, in Belfast tomorrow [Friday].