New power-sharing executive to be formed after Justice Ministry agreement

First Minister Arlene Foster with new Ministers Alastair Ross, Michelle McIlveen, Paul Givan, Simon Hamilton and Peter Weir at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

First Minister Arlene Foster with new Ministers Alastair Ross, Michelle McIlveen, Paul Givan, Simon Hamilton and Peter Weir at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Independent Unionist MLA Claire Sugden has been announced as the new Justice Minister.

East Londonderry MLA Claire Sugden has been unveiled as the agreed Democratic Unionist and Sinn Fein candidate.

The move ends any uncertainty over whether a new coalition would be formed in Belfast.

The other ministries will be shared out between the DUP and Sinn Fein during an Assembly sitting later on Wednesday.

With the Ulster Unionists and SDLP having opted to form an official opposition and the Alliance Party also deciding not to re-enter the power-sharing executive in the wake of the Assembly election, the DUP and Sinn Fein had faced somewhat of a quandary as to who would be justice minister.

Both parties previously vetoed the other taking the job, instead relying on the cross-community Alliance Party to fill the post.

First Minister Arlene Foster with new Ministers Michelle McIlveen, Peter Weir, Paul Givan, Simon Hamilton and Alastair Ross at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

First Minister Arlene Foster with new Ministers Michelle McIlveen, Peter Weir, Paul Givan, Simon Hamilton and Alastair Ross at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Without a justice minister an executive would not have been formed and another election would have been likely.

Ms Sugden’s elevation from the opposition benches has avoided that scenario.

DUP First Minister Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness flanked the 29-year-old in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings in Belfast as her appointment was confirmed.

Ms Sugden, the daughter of a former prison officer, said the job represented a “huge challenge” but she was “up for it”.

New Justice Minister Claire Sugden at Parliament Buildings, Stormont

New Justice Minister Claire Sugden at Parliament Buildings, Stormont

“This is probably the most difficult decision I have had in my life,” she said.

“It did cause me a lot of anxiety over this last week but it is an opportunity for me, for my constituency and most importantly it’s an opportunity for Northern Ireland.

“And I am looking forward to it.”

Mrs Foster said the independent MLA would be a minister for “all the people” of Northern Ireland.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with new Justice Minister Claire Sugden at Parliament Buildings, Stormont

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with new Justice Minister Claire Sugden at Parliament Buildings, Stormont

“Martin and I are delighted that Claire has agreed to be the new justice minister in the new mandate and we are very much looking forward to working with her,” she said.

Mr McGuinness hailed Ms Sugden as “impressive and progressive”.

“I am equally as delighted as Arlene that Claire has agreed to take up this onerous responsibility, this very challenging position but we have every confidence in her ability,” he said.

Unlike most posts in the executive, the justice post can only be filled with the endorsement of a cross-community vote - meaning that a majority of nationalist MLAs and a majority of unionists must support the candidate.

When the Assembly sitting started, Mr McGuinness formally nominated Ms Sugden for the job.

A scheduled debate on her nomination followed, though her appointment was a foregone conclusion given the backing of the DUP and Sinn Fein.

After Ms Sugden’s appointment was confirmed, Assembly business turned to the less contentious process of filling the other ministries.

The posts were allocated using the D’Hondt formula.

The DUP had first pick and selected Simon Hamilton as Economy Minister.

Sinn Fein then selected Mairtin O’Muilleoir as Finance Minister.

The DUP nominated Peter Weir as Education Minister and Sinn Fein announced Chris Hazzard as the Minister for Infrastructure.

The DUP took the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs with Michelle McIlveen as minister.

The party also took the Communities Department, with Paul Givan.

In the last ministry selected, Sinn Fein took health, appointing Michelle O’Neill.

The DUP’s Alastair Ross and Sinn Fein’s Megan Fearon were appointed as the administration’s two junior ministers.