Mixed reaction to Sugden’s post

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th May 2016 - 

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with new Justice Minister Claire Sugden at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th May 2016 - First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with new Justice Minister Claire Sugden at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Independent MLA Claire Sugden has drawn wide personal support after her appointment as Justice Minister - but friends and foes alike agree that the gloves will be off as the lone MLA heads up judicial and security matters for Northern Ireland.

Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster have voiced strong support for the recently engaged 29-year-old, while the UUP and SDLP opposed her appointment.

Sources in Coleraine reveal that there are two reactions to her appointment – those who are very pleased for her and those who are concerned at how the post will take her focus off her constituency work.

Lobbying from a range of East Londonderry MLAs has already begun to ensure the fulfilment of plans to redevelop Magilligan Prison in her constituency.

The East Londonderry DUP MLAs Adrian McQuillan, Maurice Bradley and George Robinson have requested a meeting with the newly elected Minister over Magilligan, whilst there have also been calls from SDLP MLA Gerry Mullan and Sinn Fein’s Caoimhe Archibald for Sugden to make the redevelopment of the prison ‘a priority’.

Coleraine Conservative councillor David Harding, who has known Claire throughout her formative political years, said: “I had suggested in the past that she should think of joining a party in order to realise her ministerial potential.”

He added: “I think people will be pleased for her personally.”

Her key achievement to date is that she got elected in her own name and increased her vote over that of the late UUP MLA David McClarty, whose seat she inherited from him, he says, adding: “The biggest problem is that she has no party machine behind her for emotional and moral support.”

The outgoing minister appointed one Special Adviser, which presumably she will also be entitled to.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt branded her appointment a “corruption” of the Good Friday Agreement, insisting ministerial seats should be allocated on the basis of party strength.

He also referred to a speech made by Ms Sugden last year when she described Stormont’s leaders as “jokers” in a falling “house of cards”.

SDLP leader Column Eastwood told the News Letter that the decision taken by Sinn Fein to back the appointment “will have consequences that are far-reaching for the Nationalist community”.

He added: “Once again Martin McGuinness allowed the DUP to dictate that the position would not go to a nationalist”.

Outgoing Justice Minister David Ford said she faces “massive issues” over budgets, the Programme for Government and reforms.

Her lack of public preconditions gives him “some concerns as to how those issues will be tackled” he added.

Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United noted that others have already said she will be “a puppet for OFMDFM”.

He added: “That is for her to prove others wrong. We look forward to building a positive relationship with her.”