So much for all the predictions

So much for my previous musings about how a DUP minister might handle the vexed question of academic selection.

Sinn Fein remain well aware that the first rule of political warfare is to keep your opponents guessing.

The party let the rumours spread that it would pick an economic brief, such as enterprise.

That would have placed it in the forefront of pushing all-Ireland economic development and harmonising corporation tax rates on either side of the border.


But when it came to it, Sinn Fein once again opted for education.

John O'Dowd told me they want to preserve and protect the reforms already in train.

Were they spooked by newspaper reports predicting the DUP would re-introduce the 11 plus?

Or had this been the plan all along? Will they put the controversial Caitriona Ruane back in the job?

She's on the record as saying she'd love to continue in the department. Or will John O'Dowd, who raised Sinn Fein's vote in Upper Bann be rewarded? For now we are left guessing.

Whoever the personality is, it looks like the stalemate over academic selection will continue.

I'm told that when Sinn Fein announced their choice it was greeted by the other parties with a stunned silence.

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Image caption Sinn Fein's decision to opt for education was the big surprise of the D'Hondt process

But afterwards the mood picked up, enhanced by the novelty of announcing the coalition via the executive's Twitter account.

Instead of hacks trying to wring the information out of their contacts, the live tweeting lent an air of immediacy to the proceedings.

Lottery balls

On Radio Ulster's Evening Extra I felt like the man who provides the commentary when the National Lottery balls are drawn - "Department of Social Development: that's the third time DSD has featured in this draw".

Back in the early days of the lottery, I made the mistake of always buying the same combination of numbers, together with my other half.

One week, when it was my duty to buy the ticket, I forgot, but declined to own up to my sin.

We watched the programme with entirely opposing emotions - her praying our numbers would come up, me praying they wouldn't. The only reason I am alive to tell this tale is that they didn't.

I mention this because there was a similar sense of dread inside Stormont Castle as the departmental draw went on.

All the parties had spent the election campaign talking about the overriding importance of health.

But all of them really regard it as a potential poisoned chalice - a department which can swallow any resources thrown at it and still leave the minister in charge wanting for more.


When the SDLP came to make their choice and health had still not been taken I'm told someone suggested that Margaret Ritchie might need a stiff brandy.

Peter Robinson joked that if she didn't take health, he would need gas and air.

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Image caption There was a sense of expectation as the parties waited for their number to come up

When the SDLP took environment, the two biggest parties engaged in a game of pass the health parcel.

The DUP took Social Development, then Sinn Fein Culture. The DUP could have passed health on to the new kids on the D'Hondt block, Alliance.

However, given the question marks over whether Alliance should really have two ministers at the table, giving them the department with the biggest budget would have seemed odd.

Moreover the only other portfolio on offer, Employment and Learning poses significant challenges.

So ninth time around the DUP took health.

However reluctant they might have been, the coalition's biggest party now has to show it can handle the executive's biggest department.

Apparently the DUP leader joked that he'd always said health should have got a bigger allocation.

An Ulster Unionist politician joked that the Chief Medical Officer - who was previously involved in an infamous stand off with the First and Deputy First Ministers - had just fainted.


The process was interrupted by a number of adjournments as the parties considered their next move. When it got to the final pick, the Alliance leader David Ford quipped that maybe he should call another adjournment - even though, there was only one portfolio left to take.

Joking aside, the fact that the DUP will hold both Finance and Health will radically alter the dynamics of the executive.

Instead of the running battle between a thrifty DUP finance minister and a cash hungry UUP health minister, the departments are going to have to find a way to work together.

The DUP has often asserted that the health service can be run more efficiently - now is their chance.

There's plenty more to ponder - will Martina Anderson get culture so she is in office when Derry is the City of Culture?

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Image caption Will a Sinn Fein culture minister intervene at the Ulster Museum

Or will Tyrone's cheeky chappy Barry "Keep Her Lit" McElduff find himself in the back of a ministerial car? How will a Sinn Fein culture minister handle Irish language rights?

Will they be as interventionist as Nelson McCausland - but in a different direction - when it comes to what is on display at our museums?


Theoretically, these ministers will now be in place for four years (or five if the life of the Assembly is extended).

However in May 2012 the "sunset clause" on the cross-community compromise over the justice department will expire.

Sinn Fein wants justice to be allocated in exactly the same way as the other departments. The DUP will resist this, unless it is in the context of a general streamlining of the number of departments.

So could a whole new structure be introduced in a year's time? Or will we have to wait until 2015?

And could Sinn Fein be holding on to a department which irks the unionists precisely because that gives them leverage in the negotiations still to come?

I don't know the answers, but I'm guessing Twitter might still be the chosen means of communication for any reshuffle in 2012. By 2015, who knows what gadgets we might all be playing with?