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The Departmental "Lucky Dip"

Mark Devenport | 16:46 UK time, Thursday, 31 March 2011

Thursday turned out to be a busy day for independents. In Foyle, the former radio presenter Paul McFadden threw his hat into the ring claiming local people were disillusioned about the failure of Stormont to deliver. Then in neighbouring West Tyrone Eugene McMenamin quit the SDLP to confirm he would stand as an independent. Given the SDLP is widely believed to have lost a seat in 2007 due to running too many candidates, this news must have been greeted at SDLP HQ with a weary sigh.

At an SDLP breakfast briefing, Alex Attwood told reporters, including my colleague Martina Purdy, just how bad tempered recent Executive meetings have been. Mr Attwood reckons both the DUP and Sinn Fein are eyeing up his Social Development department. The portfolio may enable one or the other to launch eye catching housing and urban regeneration projects. But how would they cope with Iain Duncan Smith's crusade to rewrite the welfare system? Breaking parity with GB is rather easier said than done.

Continuing the "lucky dip" theme, the UUP's Basil McCrea repeated what he called "the strong rumour circulating that the DUP and Sinn Fein have already done a deal regarding Ministerial portfolios post the election, with the DUP seeking to take Education whilst letting Sinn Fein take Enterprise, Trade & Investment" (although the Education Minister Caitriona Ruane said today she wanted to take the department again).

Speaking at a hustings event at St Columb's College in Londonderry, Mr McCrea was in part responding to a speech by the DUP leader Peter Robinson at yet another grammar, Down High in Downpatrick. Mr Robinson reiterated his support for a commission to look into the development of a single integrated education system, insisting this did not amount an attack on the Catholic maintained sector.

I'm off this evening to the first of Sinn Fein's Town Hall meetings, although this being West Belfast it's not in a town hall but a GAA club. Also tonight catch the first of my election round-ups on "Hearts and Minds" (hint - turn the sound down and you can enjoy Ian Knox's cartoons without having to put up with me burbling over the top of them).


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