Justice Minister Wanted. No Nationalist need Apply!
Last week the new SDLP Leader Margaret Ritchie nominated me as the SDLP’s candidate for Justice Minister. I was honoured as an MLA for North Belfast to be nominated for this sensitive and important political office. It is surely appropriate for a representative of an area that has seen so much sectarian violence and injustice to be nominated to rebuild our new Justice institutions for all our long suffering people both Catholic and Protestant, nationalist and unionist. I personally would be anxious to serve across the community in that capacity, as there is much good work to be done and I believe that I can command cross community support.
Unfortunately there is little chance that your SDLP MLA for North Belfast will get the Justice post. Why? Because Sinn Fein and their erstwhile colleagues in the DUP, have gerrymandered the system of appointment to ensure that the position of Justice Minister goes to the Alliance Party’s David Ford. You will remember that the Civil Rights movement happened in large part because of the Unionist Party’s gerrymander of Derry and other local Councils, where nationalists were in the majority, but were only permitted to be represented in a minority capacity on those Councils. What the Unionists did was to change the electoral boundaries to squeeze the nationalist voters into one area, and thereby minimise the nationalist vote and maximise the unionist vote, thereby ensuring a unionist majority.
Many readers will doubtless be shocked at this dirty deal, this new form of gerrymandering by Sinn Fein and the DUP over the Justice Ministry. The fact is that the two problem parties, having been unable to determine which of them was to get the Justice Ministry, decided to deny it to each other, but also did not want it to go to the SDLP, who were next in line to get it under the D ‘hondt mechanism for allocating Ministries.
D’hondt ensures inclusion and fairness and proportionality in the allocation of positions in the Northern Ireland Government. It ensures that the Good Friday Agreement provisions create an inclusive democracy.
One must ask the question why, when Sinn Fein are arguably at their strongest politically, with the DUP seriously weakened, crippled with the fear of an imminent election, why they are refusing to use that power to uphold the Good Friday Agreement provisions, which the people of Ireland endorsed in 1998. Why are Sinn Fein denying the right of a fellow nationalists to a Ministry and instead conceding that Ministry to the Alliance Party. Do not be deceived by the cheap talk of the Alliance Party; they are dying for the post and are pretending to hold out simply, as a show. Both Sinn Fein and the DUP are well aware of this and are happy to play along.
In order to get round the problem of giving the Ministry to the SDLP, Sinn Fein / DUP decided to change the rules and rammed through the Assembly a Bill to elect the Minister of Justice on a cross community basis. This in effect gave a veto to the PUP and Sinn Fein, as to which party could get the Justice Ministry. On the 9th of July last year, Peter Robinson publicly declared outside Number 10Downing Street, that he would veto any SDLP nominee for the position of Justice Minister. Sinn Fein, knowing this declaration by Robinson, with their usual dishonesty declared that they would vote for any SDLP nominee, knowing that that nominee would not get DUP support and would be vetoed by the DUP. Therefore, once again, “ no nationalist need apply”. Sinn Fein should hold its head in shame, for its collusion with the DUP in doing down the SDLP’s right to the Justice Ministry under D‘hondt. The SDLP held fast against Unionist and British pressures, whenever there were demands that Sinn Fein be excluded and thrown out of the Executive. Eaten bread it would appear, is soon forgotten. But what is not forgotten by many people, is the bad old days of Unionist Party rule, when discrimination and gerrymandering were the order of the day. Clearly the DUP have learnt little from history, but I would have expected Sinn Fein to have learnt the lesson that exclusion and discrimination against any Party does not work and is very wrong.
Alban Maginness MLA
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