Page last updated at 08:18 GMT, Saturday, 23 August 2008 09:18 UK

Parties 'conspiring against SDLP'

Police car
The transfer of policing and justice powers has been contentious

Sinn Féin and the DUP are trying to exclude the SDLP from any new justice ministry, according to SDLP minister Margaret Ritchie.

Under the current proportional system, the new department would be the responsibility of the SDLP.

However, the two biggest parties have proposed a cross-community vote should be used to elect a new minister.

Ms Ritchie said this department should be a full-blooded part of the Executive and should be offered to her party.

Transferring policing and justice powers from Westminster to Stormont has been one of the most contentious issues since devolution was restored to Northern Ireland.

The social development minister said the DUP and Sinn Féin were "seeking to cook up measures to ensure the SDLP will be excluded".

"What are they trying to hide? What shady deals are they trying to develop, involving the Northern Ireland Office, the DUP and Sinn Féin?"

However, Sinn Féin assembly member Alex Maskey accused Ms Ritchie of either "extreme paranoia or delusions of grandeur".

"I can assure her that the position of the SDLP has played no part in any of our discussions on this issue," he said.

"It is beyond me why Margaret Ritchie would think that her party's position would be an issue for Sinn Féin at a time when the sole focus needs to be on ensuring delivery from the British government."


SEE ALSO
Scale of justice job 'daunting'
20 Aug 08 |  Northern Ireland

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