Northern Ireland

NI Executive: Draft programme for government agreed

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Media captionThe new Northern Ireland Executive agreed a draft framework for the programme for government

The new Northern Ireland Executive has agreed a draft framework for the programme for government.

The new ministers met for the first time on Thursday and emerged after 20 minutes to say they have passed the first hurdle of reaching a new programme.

The draft framework will go out to public consultation on Friday.

First Minister Arlene Foster said it represented "a completely new way of doing politics in Northern Ireland".

Image caption The executive met for the first time on Thursday

"We hope it's a time for more thoughtful politics in Northern Ireland," she added.

Ms Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness denied their agreed framework programme for government is nothing more than an "apple pie" list of vague aspirations.

They said criticism levelled by political rivals on the blueprint's lack of specific targets and goals missed the point.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "Those people who describe it as apple pie ignore the purpose of what we're trying to do, which is to evolve that programme for government in consultation with the public so that the end result will be very definite actions."

He said the executive was inviting the public to be involved in the process, which had proved to be a successful model in the Scottish Assembly.

Image copyright Arlene foster
Image caption The DUP unveiled its ministerial team on Wednesday morning

Eleven out of 12 posts have been shared out between the two biggest parties, the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin.

The executive was formed after independent unionist MLA Claire Sugden was appointed as justice minister.

The new ministers will be briefed on their departments before getting to work on the framework programme for government.

When it is finalised, it will be brought to the Northern Ireland Assembly before being put out to public consultation later this year.

Speaking on Radio Ulster on Thursday morning, First Minister Arlene Foster said: "This is an executive where we are going to deliver on our programme for government and we hope that we'll finalise that programme for government framework today.

"It's not a case of us being in departmental silos - and that's something else I emphasised yesterday to my colleagues - we are moving forward in a new way of doing things."

Mrs Foster also condemned criticism of the appointment of Ms Sugden as justice minister.

"I said to Claire yesterday that she would have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageousness from some of her MLA colleagues behind her and that's exactly what happened," she said.

"I thought it was entirely graceless the way some people are struggling for relevance in the assembly, they attacked someone who has stepped forward to take on a very difficult job."

Image caption Claire Sugden said she was ready for the challenge of justice minister

The ministers will get to see their new offices on Thursday and meet senior civil servants in their departments.

Education Minister Peter Weir said he did not underestimate the challenges ahead.

"The executive is facing very challenging financial pressures which will impact on school budgets," he said.

"My priority is to ensure funding is targeted at helping and supporting our children and young people."

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) are forming an opposition.

Last week, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers warned there would be fresh assembly elections if the justice post was not filled.

The posts have been shared out using a system called D'Hondt, in which ministerial posts are allocated according to parties' representation in the assembly.

Image copyright PACEMAKER
Image caption Sinn Féin ministers are meeting their DUP counterparts around the executive table

Under this system, the DUP, Sinn Féin, SDLP and Ulster Unionists would have been entitled to nominate.

However, the SDLP and UUP declined to nominate a minster and are, instead, forming the first formal opposition in the assembly.

The DUP ministers are:

  • Simon Hamilton - minister for the economy;
  • Peter Weir - minister for education;
  • Paul Givan - minister for the department of communities;
  • Michelle McIlveen - minister for agriculture, environment and rural affairs.

The Sinn Féin ministers are:

  • Máirtín Ó Muilleoir - minister for finance;
  • Michelle O'Neill - minister for health;
  • Chris Hazzard - minister for infrastructure.

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