Northern Ireland

Sinn Fein take education role in new executive

Stormont Castle
Image caption The D'Hondt procedure is being informally run at Stormont Castle

Sinn Fein have once again taken the education portfolio after the parties chose which departments they want in the new executive.

The DUP used the first choice to take finance. It then also took health, enterprise and social development.

BBC NI political editor Mark Devenport said Sinn Fein's decision to take education was a "major surprise".

The party also took agriculture and culture while the UUP went for regional development.

The SDLP took environment with its sole choice.

Alliance, which is expected to retain justice on the special cross-community vote provision, was left with the Department for Employment and Learning for the final choice.

The D'Hondt formula is the mechanism used to decide which parties get which portfolios.

On Monday, they will announce which ministers they will be appointing to their respective departments.

Some analysts had expected Sinn Fein to take the enterprise department with its first pick.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness explained why it had chosen to continue with education which was also its first choice in 2007.

"It is the cornerstone of any productive and progressive society and we, as a party have a strong commitment to protecting and continuing the radical change that Sinn Fein has brought.

"We will continue to work for a education system based on equality for all."

He said the party had been mindful of significant upcoming events when choosing the culture portfolio.

"The City of Culture in Derry and major historical anniversaries, including 1916 and the signing of the Ulster Covenant which should be treated with equality and respect," he said.

Earlier Mr McGuinness' party colleague John O'Dowd would not be drawn on whether Caitriona Ruane would be re-appointed as minister in the department.

Sinn Fein's move for the culture portfolio has been welcomed by the Irish language organisation, Pobal.

"It appeared to many Irish speakers that successive Ministers for Culture were unresponsive, not to say hostile, to the genuine needs of Irish speakers," said Pobal chief executive, Janet Muller.

She added that she looked forward to early discussions "in relation to the unfulfilled commitments in the St Andrew's Agreement."

In a novel development, the news of the allocation of the departments was announced via the Northern Ireland Executive's official Twitter account.

Image caption Martin McGuinness said he wished to protect his party's radical changes in education

Alliance leader David Ford, expected to be appointed justice minister, said his party was delighted to have secured the employment and learning portfolio.

He added: "This is a pivotal role as we develop our economy for the future and I know that an Alliance Minister will deliver for everyone."

TUV leader Jim Allister said that he feared the "chaotic state" of education after four more years of Sinn Fein "rampaging through it".

The chairs of the various departmental scrutiny committees have also been shared out using the same system.

The DUP will chair the justice, education, agriculture, regional development and culture committees, while Sinn Fein will head finance, health and social development.

The employment and learning and OFMDFM committees will be chaired by the Ulster Unionists, while the SDLP will lead enterprise and the Alliance Party environment.

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