Page last updated at 12:24 GMT, Thursday, 3 December 2009

MLAs invited to nominate justice minister by next week

Letter
The letter sent by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness to MLAs

The first and deputy first ministers have written to MLAs inviting them to nominate candidates for the post of justice minister by next week.

The letter from Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness makes it clear they will not pick one of their own MLAs.

It goes on to say that they want to meet the other party leaders to consider which candidates are likely to get cross-community support.

It adds that they hope to agree on a potential minister before Christmas.

The leader of the Alliance party David Ford has been widely tipped as the most likely candidate to take the post.

BBC Northern Ireland's Political Editor Mark Devenport said that in some ways the optimistic tone of the letter contrasted with recent negative rhetoric.

'Tantrum'

"However some Stormont sources point out that that the parties have already identified the lawyer they want to be Northern Ireland's Attorney General, and, more than a year on, the barrister has still not been able to start his future job," he added.

Details of the letter have emerged hours before the latest meeting of the power-sharing executive.

Martin McGuinness has warned the institutions are unsustainable without a date for the devolution of policing by Christmas.

The DUP accused Mr McGuinness of "engaging in a tantrum" and warned that threats were counterproductive.

The executive is expected to discuss a range of items, including recent flooding in Fermanagh.

Mr McGuinness said the political institutions were unsustainable if they were not based on equality.

Cross-community

He said he met First Minister Peter Robinson, and they agreed to write to MLAs about justice minister selection.

A bill paving the way for the devolution of the powers in the future passed its final stage in the Northern Ireland Assembly on Tuesday.

It creates a justice department and allows a justice minister to be appointed with cross-community backing.

The DUP and Sinn Fein have been arguing for months over the issue, often referred to as the "last piece of the devolution jigsaw".

The DUP leader has said policing devolution will only take place when there is sufficient community confidence while Sinn Fein wants the power transferred as soon as possible.



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