13 May 2006

Unionist move robs Sinn Féin of ministry

BN.ie

13/05/2006 - 13:15:16

Sinn Féin today faced the prospect of losing a ministerial post in Northern Ireland’s next devolved government after a senior loyalist Assembly member agreed to join the Ulster Unionist group at Stormont.

As Northern Ireland’s 108 Assembly members prepared to gather at Stormont on Monday for the first time since they were elected in November 2003, the Progressive Unionist Party announced their leader David Ervine would form a group with Sir Reg Empey’s Ulster Unionists.

The move would give the new group 25 Assembly members while Sinn Féin will have 24.

And it will result in the Ulster Unionists being able to claim three ministries in a future Stormont executive, with Sinn Féin getting just two.

Prior to the decision of the PUP executive today, the Ulster Unionists would have only been entitled to two ministries as opposed to three for Sinn Féin.

The decision was confirmed by the PUP's chairperson Dawn Purvis.

“The PUP took this decision after wide consultation,” the Northern Ireland Policing Board member said.

“It was discussed at length and it was a collective decision.

“It is felt that by forming a group, that will give the unionist community a much-needed boost.”

Mr Ervine, who represents East Belfast in the Assembly, will become part of the Ulster Unionist Party Assembly Group.

However, he will not become a UUP member.

As things currently stand in the Assembly, the Reverend Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionists have 32 Assembly members and are the largest group at Stormont.

They will be entitled to the post of Stormont First Minister and to three ministries.

It had been thought last year that the DUP would have been able to claim four ministries but those plans were set back when their Newry and Armagh MLA Paul Berry was suspended following allegations about his private life.

Mr Berry will sit in the Assembly on Monday as an independent unionist.

Sinn Féin had hoped to have gained a ministry following Mr Berry’s suspension but will now, if things stand, be entitled to the Deputy First Minister’s post and two cabinet portfolios.

The nationalist SDLP will be entitled to two ministries in any future executive.

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