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Tuesday, March 30, 1999 Published at 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK

UK Politics

How the assembly will work

Assembly's make-up will mirror that of the province's communities

Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam says the process of devolving power to the province will begin by Thursday.

The Search for Peace
If the stumbling block of IRA decommissioning can be overcome, then the next issue to be resolved is the make-up of the assembly's executive.

It is a process that can seem almost as complicated as many of the issues the assembly has been set up to tackle.

But the share-out of Northern Ireland's 10 new government departments between parties has been designed to ensure full cross-community representation.

[ image: First Minister David Trimble could hold other portfolios]
First Minister David Trimble could hold other portfolios
The share will be decided according to party strengths in the assembly.

The Ulster Unionists and the SDLP will each be entitled to three ministerial seats, while Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists will have two seats each.

A more complicated formula is used to decide in which order parties choose their ministries - with the more influential posts being taken first.

The order is decided by taking the number of assembly seats each party has, dividing it by the number of ministerial offices that party already holds and adding one.

Where this gives the same total for two parties, the one with the bigger number of first preference votes in last year's assembly elections picks first.

18th century formula

The Ulster Unionists are the biggest assembly party with 28 seats, followed by the SDLP with 24, then the Democratic Unionists (20), and Sinn Fein (18).

Therefore, the Ulster Unionists would get first pick of ministerial portfolios, then the SDLP, the DUP third and Sinn Fein fourth.

The UUP will have fifth choice, SDLP sixth and DUP seventh, but then the first preference votes will come into play, giving the UUP eighth pick, Sinn Fein ninth and the SDLP 10th.

The first minister and deputy first minister are not excluded from holding another ministerial office.

Chairs, deputy chairs and committees to help and advise each minister will then be appointed using the same formula, with regard to the balance of parties and ensuring each assembly member has the opportunity to be on a committee.

A minister may not be the chair or deputy chair of a committee, and members can only hold one chair or deputy chair.

The system was devised by an 18th century Belgian political scientist, Vincent d'Hondt.

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