Arlene Foster (DUP Fermanagh-South Tyrone) and Michelle O’Neill (Sinn Féin, Mid Ulster) are again the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.
But the two junior ministers, Gordon Lyons (DUP, East Antrim) and Declan Kearney (Sinn Féin, South Antrim) will be the gatekeepers, conduits between their bosses and the civil service, organising the SpAds (Special Advisors) and of course the big link to their Parliamentary colleagues.
The Justice Department went to Naomi Long (Alliance, East Belfast) by acclamation. So again this contentious position is outside the normal d’Hondt choices. DUP wont tolerate a nationalist holding it but Sinn Féin have signalled that this is the last time they will accept this. So Alliance get an Executive seat without it being justified by their mandate. But for once, it is academic. If the Assembly had not been re-instated, Alliance would have gained some seats and qualified for an Executive seat as a right.
DUP took the Economy Department with Diane Dodds (Upper Bann) who will cease being a MEP later this month. She was only co-opted as a MLA last month to succeed new Westminster MP, Carla Lockhart. Hubby, Nigel Dodds lost his North Belfast seat last month…so I am sure we are all relieved that the Dodds family has again landed on its well-shod feet.
Sinn Féin took the Finance Department, the overseer of the public finances. Conor Murphy (Newry-Armagh) is really the main SF player. His leader, Ms O’Neill is a figure-head.
DUP took Education. Peter Weir (North Down) who left the UUP in 2001. Education can be a contentious issue. Fault lines include state (de facto unionist and Protestant) education, Catholic education (de facto nationalist) and “integrated education” a letsgetalongerist option. But it is also marked by a divide between Grammar schools and Comprehemsive schools, often seen as a “class” issue.
Sinn Féin took Communities, a ministry that includes Sport and the Irish language. Deirdre Hargey (South Belfast) was only co-opted into the Assembly a few days ago. I dont like her. Enough said. So clearly fast-tracked and possibly a recognition that SF is worried about holding the seat. I see it more as an attempt to have a Belfast-based MLA at the Executive table.
SDLP took Infrastructure. This means that Nichola Mallon (North Belfast) is now the Minister responsible for my (free, All-Ireland) bus and train pass. She has also responsibility for transport and roads etc. I am extremely disappointed that SDLP dd not take Health. SDLP has had a good winter, culminating in winning two seats at the Westminster Election. The SDLP were also the party who most credibly has been highlighting the problems in health service and appearing (with more credibility than Sinn Féin) at picket lines outside hospitals. So, while not under-stating the importance of transport and roads as well as my bus/train pass, I cannot understand why SDLP did not choose Health. It looks like cowardice, an example of just “talking the talk”.
So UUP thru Robin Swann (North Antrim) took Health. The poison challenge. Steve Aiken, UUP Party Leader made reference to the civil servants in the public gallery. He might well be expecting some hassle.
And DUP took Agriculture & Environment. Fundamentalist and Creationist, Edwin Poots (Lagan Valley) is the Minister. He is a farmer and his most extraordinary belief is that Brexit is a good thing.
And there we have it. A new Executive that has just two years left on its mandate.