A suggestion by Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness that he is prepared to consider sharing the role of First Minister if Sinn Fein tops the polls in the North’s Assembly election has drawn a hostile, if predictable, reaction from unionists.
The issue of who becomes the largest party, winning the right to the post of the North’s First Minister, is one of the few issues to have arisen in campaigning for the May 5 election.
Mr McGuinness has argued that, the roles of the First and Deputy First Minister already have “exactly the same powers and authority”. His offer to share the top post was described as a “ploy” by Arlene Foster of the DUP, before the outgoing First Minister Peter Robinson gave his negative response.
The DUP leader said McGuinness’s comments were an attempt to “undermine” support for his party.
“I think it’s fairly clear they are concerned that the unionist population is rallying around the DUP and they’re trying to undermine that”, he told journalists.
“I have no doubt there are people who don’t want to see a Sinn Fein first minister and will lend us their votes during the course of this election to avoid that happening but I would rather be going forward to the people of Northern Ireland with a positive agenda.”
Mr McGuinness said the reaction has left him “a wee bit bemused”.
“What I said yesterday was that I was saying this to allay fears not to heighten fears,” he said. “To show that there is a spirit of generosity within what we are doing.”
Margaret Ritchie, leader of the nationalist SDLP, said that, because the positions are “co-equal”, she does not understand why unionists are concerned.
Meanwhile the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Tom Elliott said his party felt sidelined. “No mention of the UUP but again that is the Sinn Fein/DUP partnership,” he said.
The UUP leader had proposed a possible post-election unionist pact if Sinn Fein topped the poll, as it did in last year’s European election. At least two UUP assembly members questioned Elliott’s plan, opening an apparent internal rift.
A DUP spokesman also questioned the UUP’s seriousness in making the proposal. He said that it had never approached his party to discuss a post-election pact.
REGISTER TO VOTE
eirigi candidate for Belfast’s Upper Falls ward in the forthcoming Six County local government elections Padraic Mac Coitir has called on people to ensure they are on the register on time to be able to vote.
Mr Mac Coitir said: “The cut off date for being registered to vote in the May 5 local government elections is April 14. If you have not applied to be put on the electoral register by April 14, you will not be allowed to vote.
“eirigi is conscious that many republicans and socialists have allowed themselves to drop off the electoral register in recent years due to the lack of any radical option on the ballot paper.
“There are also many young people out there who are eligible to vote for the first time but whose names haven’t been added to the register yet.
“What we are saying to these people is, don’t let your voice go unheard on May 5.”
Meanwhile, former DUP leader Ian Paisley bade a final farewell to northern politics at the last session of the Assembly at Stormont on Wednesday.
Martin McGuinness said it was an “honour” to work with Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson. People could have whatever views they liked about his and Paisley’s past but, he added, they were politicians “who live in the here and now and for the future”.