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First Minister of Northern Ireland

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First Minister of Northern Ireland

"First Minister of Northern Ireland" redirects here. It is not to be confused with Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.
First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland
MLA
since 5 June 2008 and 8 May 2007 (respectively)
Appointer Northern Ireland Assembly
Term length At the discretion of the single largest party in each of the two largest community designations within the Northern Ireland Assembly
Inaugural holder David Trimble and Seamus Mallon
Formation 1 July 1998
Salary £111,677 each (includes salary as MLA)[1]
Website www.ofmdfmni.gov.uk

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister (Irish: Céad-Aire agus leasChéad-Aire,[2] Ulster-Scots: Heid Männystèr an Heid Männystèr depute or First Meinister an First Meinister depute)[3][4] are the joint heads of the Northern Ireland Executive, with overall responsibility for the running of the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM).

The two positions are a diarchy, meaning that they have equal power. Created under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, both were initially nominated and appointed by members of the Northern Ireland Assembly on a joint ticket using cross-community (consociational) principles. That process was changed following the 2006 St Andrews Agreement, meaning that the First Minister and deputy First Minister are now nominated separately by the largest parties in each of the two largest community designations in the assembly. The incumbents are Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party as First Minister and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin as Deputy First Minister.

Responsibilities

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister have the same governmental power, and their decisions are made jointly. The First Minister is, though, the first to greet official visitors to Northern Ireland and shares the same title as his counterparts in Scotland and Wales.

Specifically, they are tasked with co-chairing meetings of the Northern Ireland Executive, "dealing with and co-ordinating" the work of the Executive, and the response of the administration to external relationships.[5]

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister agree the agenda of Executive meetings[6] and can jointly determine "significant or controversial matters" to be considered by the Executive.[7]

The ministers' policy responsibilities include:[8]

Two junior ministers assist the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in carrying out the work of OFMDFM.[9] They are jointly accountable to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The incumbent junior ministers are Jonathan Bell (Democratic Unionist Party, DUP) and Martina Anderson (Sinn Féin).

Election

As originally established under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the First Minister was elected by the Assembly on a joint ticket with the deputy First Minister through a cross-community vote. This diarchy was created to enable the leaders of the main unionist and nationalist parties to work together, with guaranteed joint representation of both main communities. For the purposes of a cross-community vote, MLAs were designated as unionist, nationalist or other.

The nominees for First Minister and deputy First Minister required the support of:

  • a majority of the members voting in the election;
  • a majority of the designated unionists voting; and
  • a majority of the designated nationalists voting.[10]

This procedure was used on 2 December 1999 to elect David Trimble (Ulster Unionist Party, UUP) and Seamus Mallon (Social Democratic and Labour Party, SDLP). Following several suspensions of the Northern Ireland Executive, Trimble was not re-elected on 2 November 2001 due to unionist opposition. He was subsequently re-elected alongside Mark Durkan (SDLP) on 6 November 2001; on that occasion, three Alliance Party of Northern Ireland members redesignated from 'other' to 'unionist' to support Trimble's nomination.[11]

Following the St Andrews Agreement in October 2006, this procedure was changed to allow for:

  • a First Minister nominated by the largest party of the largest designation;[12]
  • a deputy First Minister nominated by the largest party of the second largest designation.[13]

This procedure, which removed the need for a joint ticket between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin, was used to appoint Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness on 8 May 2007. It was again used to appoint Peter Robinson (DUP) alongside Martin McGuinness on 5 June 2008 and again on 12 May 2011.

However, if the largest party of the largest designation (currently the DUP) were not the largest party overall, the appointment procedure would be as follows:

  • a First Minister nominated by the largest party;
  • a deputy First Minister nominated by the largest party of the largest designation.[14]

The Minister of Justice is now the only Northern Ireland Executive Minister elected on a cross-community vote. All other ministers are party appointees.[15]

Vacancy

The First Minister or deputy First Minister may also appoint another Northern Ireland Executive Minister to exercise the functions of the office during a vacancy; currently for a continuous period up to six weeks.[16][17]

Vacancies have occurred on three occasions to date:

Terminology

Titles in Ulster Scots

Various ways of translating the titles "First Minister and deputy First Minister" into the Ulster Scots dialects have been attested in official communications, including Heid Männystèr an tha Heid Männystèr depute, First Meinister an First Meinister depute,[3][4] First Meenister an First Meenister depute[18] and First Minister an First Minister depute.[19]

Capitalisation of "deputy"

The second position has been spelt "Deputy" or "deputy" First Minister, due to differing preferences by civil servants (and potentially ministers), although the spelling of the title has no constitutional consequences in practice.

The first two holders of the office, namely Seamus Mallon and Mark Durkan, were both referred to during their periods of office as "Deputy First Minister", with a capital D. This version was also adopted in 1999 for the logo of the OFMDFM. Several weeks after Martin McGuinness took up office as Deputy First Minister in 2007, civil servants in his department began asking the Assembly's Hansard team to replace the capital D with a lower-case d, pointing out that the title was spelled this way in the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the legislation which established the office. Some believe that the case was changed to highlight the fact that the position holds the same power as the position of First Minister, but a spokesman for McGuinness said that neither McGuinness nor his advisers had asked for the change. The Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, William Hay, ordered the change and the capital D was dropped from Hansard references. The Office of the First and deputy First Minister continues to use both versions of McGuinness' title on its website.

Officials edited the department's archive of press releases to make that change (despite its use by Mallon and Durkan when in office) but the capital D still appears in some places, and a spokesman confirmed on 20 March 2008 that the office had "no plans" to change the OFMDFM logo. However, the Assembly committee that scrutinises their work is now listed as the "Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister". Ultimately it was decided that McGuinness should be the deputy First Minister, unless all the other letters in the title are in capitals. Confusion isn't completely resolved however; if McGuinness writes to the Assembly committee that scrutinises his work, his note will have a letterhead that comes from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, but he'll get a reply back from the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.[20]

In official language, the positions are sometimes abbreviated to FM/dFM,[21]

"Joint First Minister" and "Co-First Minister"

Sinn Féin started using the phrases Joint First Minister and Co-First Minister in 2009 to describe the deputy First Minister to highlight the fact that the First Minister and deputy First Minister operated as a diarchy. Martin McGuinness used the term Joint First Minister himself when he arrived for a meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in February 2009; the DUP denounced the term as "republican speak" and it is not used in legislation.[22][23] Jim Allister, the leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice, has long been calling Robinson and McGuinness "the joint first ministers", to highlight the joint nature of the office and to demonstrate his opposition to the power-sharing arrangements.[22] In the Assembly chamber David McClarty used the phrase but was corrected by William Hay, the Speaker.

History


Following a referendum on the Belfast Agreement on 23 May 1998 and subsequent the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Northern Ireland Assembly was established in 1998 with a view to assuming devolved powers from the Westminster Parliament. On 1 July 1998, David Trimble (UUP) and Seamus Mallon (SDLP) were nominated and elected First Minister and Deputy First Minister designates respectively. Eventually, on 2 December 1999, power was devolved and Trimble and Mallon formally took office as joint heads of the Northern Ireland Executive.

On 6 November 2001, Mark Durkan (SDLP) became Deputy First Minister after Seamus Mallon's retirement. The Executive and the two positions were suspended between 15 October 2002 and 8 May 2007 following a breakdown in trust between the parties.

On 8 May 2007, Ian Paisley (DUP) and Martin McGuinness (Sinn Féin) were nominated and appointed First Minister and Deputy First Minister respectively in line with the announcement by their two parties on 26 March 2007.

Paisley announced his intention to resign on 4 March 2008.[24] His deputy as DUP leader, Peter Robinson was ratified as Democratic Unionist Party leader designate on 17 April 2008[25] and took office in that role on 31 May 2008. As leader-designate of the largest designated unionist party in the Northern Ireland Assembly he was also in effect the First Minister designate and became First Minister on 5 June 2008.

Separately, between 12 February 2000[26] and 30 May 2000,[27] and 15 October 2002[28] and 8 May 2007,[29] however, devolution was suspended, and along with it the offices of First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister became the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. There were also two 24-hour periods of suspension on 11 August 2001[30][31] and 22 September 2001.[32][33] to allow timetables for negotiation to restart.[34]

First Ministers and deputy First Ministers

First Ministers Deputy First Ministers
Minister Photo Party Took office Left office Minister Photo Party Took office Left office
David Trimble Ulster Unionist 1 July 1998 1 July 2001 Seamus Mallon SDLP 1 July 1998 6 November 2001
Reg Empey
(acting)
100px Ulster Unionist 1 July 2001 6 November 2001
David Trimble Ulster Unionist 6 November 2001 14 October 2002 Mark Durkan SDLP 6 November 2001 14 October 2002
Assembly suspended from 15 October 2002 to 8 May 2007
Ian Paisley Democratic Unionist 8 May 2007 5 June 2008 Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin 8 May 2007 20 September 2011
Peter Robinson Democratic Unionist 5 June 2008 11 January 2010
Arlene Foster
(acting)
Democratic Unionist 11 January 2010 3 February 2010
Peter Robinson Democratic Unionist 3 February 2010 Incumbent
John O'Dowd
(acting)
Sinn Féin 20 September 2011 31 October 2011
Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin 31 October 2011 Incumbent

Direct rule ministers

During the periods of suspension, the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland assumed the responsibilities of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.

Name Photo Party Since Until PM
John Reid Labour 14 October 2002
(25 January 2001 as Secretary)
24 October 2002 Tony Blair
Paul Murphy Labour 24 October 2002 6 May 2005
Peter Hain Labour 6 May 2005 8 May 2007
(27 June 2007 as Secretary)

See also

References

External links

  • OFMDFM

cy:Prif Weinidog Gogledd Iwerddon

fr:Premier ministre et vice-Premier ministre d'Irlande du Nord pl:Pierwsi ministrowie Irlandii Północnej ru:Первый министр Северной Ирландии simple:First Minister and deputy First Minister fi:Pohjois-Irlannin ensimmäinen ministeri tl:Pangunahing Ministro ng Hilagang Irlanda zh:北爱尔兰首席部长和副首席部长

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