Is it conceivable that the Alliance Party’s ruling body will plunge the Executive at Stormont Castle into a crisis? The arbitrary purging by the First and deputy First Ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, of DEL and its Minister Stephen Farry has left the Alliance Party fulminating.
Justice Minister and Alliance Party leader David Ford spoke of ‘a carve-up’ and ‘a fix’ on Radio Ulster in the wake of the Robinson/McGuinness announcement to kill off DEL (Department of Employment and Learning) – currently under the auspices of Stephen Farry.
I understand trouble was already brewing in the Alliance Party’s executive prior to yesterday’s bilateral meetings between parties and the First and deputy First Ministers.
There is a feeling in Alliance Party circles that their mandate is not being respected as expressed at the ballot box. David Ford is arguing that numerically his party earned a right to be ministerially represented in the Executive and he further underscores the fact that he alone had cross-community support for the post of Justice Minister.
Stephen Farry has been wrestling with the Stranmillis/Queen’s merger. In fact he was due to address staff at Stranmillis next week. He is in agreement with the College Board of Governors’ Chairman, Stephen Costello, that the institution’s future is dependent on the Queen’s merger. What happens now?
I tweeted earlier that concern had been expressed to me in Parliament Buildings yesterday – that responsibility for the future of St Mary’s and Stranmillis, as teacher training colleges, will now fall to Education Minister John O’Dowd.
Sinn Féin West Belfast Assembly members are stoutly defending the current status of St Mary’s in that constituency. Peter Robinson and the DUP have moved to block the Stranmillis/Queen’s merger, unless St Mary’s status is challenged.
The DUP sees St Mary’s Teacher Training College as a nursery for the promotion of Catholicism in Catholic schools. Peter Robinson wants all teachers trained on the same campus. He is pushing the idea of a single system education. He and colleagues warn against an undermining of the ‘ethos’ of Stranmillis. Has no-one told the DUP that Stranmillis is a non denominational college – with about a third of students and lecturers coming from a catholic/nationalist background?
The coming days could prove interesting at Parliament Buildings. Will the Alliance Party mutiny? Will David Ford plunge the institutions into a crisis, or is the elixir of ministerial office in Justice too powerful?
David Ford’s usage of terms like ‘carve up,’ ‘a fix’ and ‘bad government’ are strong terms from any Executive Minister. Interesting times.