Page last updated at 12:00 GMT, Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Alliance accused of 'selling souls' for justice job

Basil McCrea
Basil McCrea accused Alliance of sending mixed messages

The Alliance Party has been accused of 'selling its soul' for the chance of securing the new justice ministry if there is a deal on devolution.

The accusation was made by the UUP's Basil McCrea who also said that his party would have "extreme reservations" about an Alliance justice minister.

Mr McCrea said that any new minister should be appointed through the democratically agreed d'Hont system.

Alliance said Mr McCrea was making his own "cheap bid" for the justice job.

'Completely confused'

Mr McCrea made his remarks a day after Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn proposed a motion which noted "the large number of critical issues that the Executive has failed to resolve" and expressed "deep concern about the consequences for good governance".

It is time they sent out a clear message - where exactly do the Alliance Party stand? It seems to me that they have sold their potential souls for the chance of a ministry.
UUP MLA Basil McCrea

But the UUP MLA claimed that after debating the issue for over an hour, Alliance then attempted to withdrawn their own motion and even voted against it when he forced a vote on the issue.

However, Alliance said that Mr McCrea was wrong and that they in fact voted for the motion.

"The message coming from the [Alliance] party is completely confused. On one hand they criticise the Executive for what it has described as failures, on the other hand they are scrambling for a position as justice minister, he said.

Mr McCrea said Alliance did not want to "upset" either Sinn Fein or the DUP in case it weakened their chances of securing the ministry.

However, Trevor Lunn of Alliance said: "Alliance have clear conditions that need to be met for the good of Northern Ireland before we could take any justice minister post. The UUP however have no preconditions and appear to want this job no matter the circumstances.

"Last week Sir Reg was huffing and incorrectly saying no-one wanted to discuss justice with them.

"This week, after a few honeyed words from the DUP and with a sniff of the prospect of power in his nostrils Basil McCrea has started scrabbling around attempting to grasp the Justice Ministers job."

Unnecessary vote

Alliance deputy leader, Naomi Long, said Mr McCrea's argument was "riddled with inconsistencies" and was a "cynical exploitation of the current difficulties in the Executive for short-term party political gain".

Naomi Long
Naomi Long said Alliance did not want to embarrass other parties

Referring to the motion, Ms Long said given that the tone of Monday's debate had been largely constructive - "with the exception of the Ulster Unionist Party" - Alliance members felt that it was not necessary to push it to a vote.

She said the Alliance motion was initially proposed to "allow people, particularly parties such as ourselves who don't have the opportunity to sit around the Executive table and make our views known, to raise issues about the stability of the Executive and lack of public confidence".

She added that voting for their motion would "embarrass parties who are in the Executive" - including Mr McCrea's UUP.

Intensive talks on the devolution of policing and justice are set to continue on Tuesday.

If there is a deal, any new justice minister will have to be elected by a cross-community vote in the Assembly, meaning that the post is likely to go to a member of the cross-community Alliance party.

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