Newspaper reports suggest that the UUP are poised to back Alban Maginness as Justice Minister. Slugger O’Toole has already pointed to an apparent anomaly in this. So what are the UUP trying to achieve? In the post below W B Maginess considers why the move might be clever politics…
By W B Maginess
Rumours abound that the UUP are going to back Alban Maginness for Justice Minister. This deserves some analysis.
The principle that d’Hondt should be used to appoint Ministers is one that the UUP have stuck to throughout the debate around devolution. The SDLP seem to have thought this meant that they would get first refusal at Justice because they have 11th pick in d’Hondt, but of course this is flawed.
Were justice in the mix in 2007, it is inconceivable that Environment or Regional Development would have been selected ahead of Justice. As a result were d’Hondt to be used to appoint this Minister, all Ministers would need to cease to hold office and the entire thing run again. The DUP’s argument was that this left it open to Sinn Fein, but of course that is totally disingenuous. If Sinn Fein and the DUP had a pact not to take the post, then they wouldn’t. Their aim in not running d’Hondt was to keep the UUP and SDLP out.
However the UUP’s support for Maginness might just rain on David Ford’s parade.
Putting Alban in retains the principle that if there are 11 Department’s, the SDLP should have two of them, even if the order is out of whack with what you could expect. It also shows the UUP to be willing to share power, but also sensitive powers, with Catholics. In that sense it is very clever politics. It also leaves the DUP, Sinn Fein and Alliance in very tricky positions – they did not invisage this when cooking up their deal in March 2009 (for it was then when the real legislation went through for appointing a Justice Minister).
Sinn Fein have no choice but to back an SDLP candidate. They could not possibly justify to the Nationalist electorate doing the SDLP over in a power sharing Executive in favour of the Alliance Party. Their votes are being taken as read for Alban, and with good reason.
The DUP are expected to vote against him, but against UUP support for him, how can they justify this? Can they say that can’t support the SDLP who believe in 50:50 recruitment? Probably not. While the Alliance have always opposed the quota too, the recruitment policy is ending next year, and it is not being devolved anyway. So a Justice Minister whoever he or she is, will have no say whatsoever to do with it. Alban’s nationalist rhetoric has never been particularly repulsive to Unionists, Alex Atwood he certainly ain’t. So would the DUP really vote against him just because he is a Nationalist, or worse, a Catholic?
If they do, or even if they are perceived to have, how can David Ford brazen through that? How can he justify to his members and voters taking the Justice Department on the basis of DUP patronage following their vetoing of a Nationalist backed by a section of unionism?
Should the UUP decide to back the SDLP for the position, they could prove to be the kingmakers from a position of weakness. What whatever the outcome, Ford’s footsie with the DUP and Sinn Fein can only do him harm in the long run, and the UUP may have shown themselves to be worthy of government again.