Assembly will be a union of extremes


THE 108 seats of the new Belfast assembly will accommodate, physically if not politically, almost every well-known politician in Northern Ireland ranging, as one commentator put it, from one extreme to the other.

Media attention at Wednesday's first sitting may centre on the unaccustomed sight of the Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, and Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party being brought together in the same room. There may be eye contact between them: there will certainly be no handshake.

The central and most powerful figures in the new institution, however, will be the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, and John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, who are expected to become First Minister and Deputy First Minister. They will in time be joined by up to 10 ministers of a new executive.

Together the two men are expected to form a partnership symbolising the hopes of creating a fresh Northern Ireland with a new era of co-operation between Unionists and nationalists. Their parties have 52 seats between them and can together rely on the support of many more members.

Some believe the relationship will turn into one of equals rather than one based on the concept of leader and deputy. While Mr Trimble won the larger number of seats, Mr Hume won the larger number of votes, and is furthermore seen as the architect of the new agreement.

Mr Trimble's closest associates from his own party, and the most likely candidates for places on the executive, are his deputy John Taylor and party officer Reg Empey, both of whom have a business background.

One personality missing, however, will be the MP Ken Maginnis, who has opted to concentrate on Westminster.

John Taylor has been a feature of Northern Ireland politics since the 1960s, having narrowly survived a republican assassination attempt by the Official IRA, a breakaway from the Provisionals, before going on to become both a Westminster MP and an MEP.

Within Mr Hume's party his deputy Seamus Mallon, who is familiar to all from his television appearances, will be to the fore. Mark Durkan, a former party chairman regarded by many as Mr Hume's heir, will also be prominent.

A new generation of the DUP will come on-stream with the arrival in the assembly of Mr Paisley's son, Ian Paisley Jr. He will be joined by the husband and wife team of deputy leader Peter Robinson, who is MP for East Belfast, and his wife Iris. The DUP will also have the Rev William McCrea, renowned both for his fundamentalist preaching and his singing talents.

The Sinn Fein team will include senior republicans such as Mitchel McLaughlin and Pat Doherty. Among the new legislators are some who have previously been in trouble with the law, figures such as Martin McGuinness and Gerry Kelly having come to the new institution via stretches behind bars.

David Ervine and Billy Hutchinson, who will be there as representatives of the Progressive Unionist party, also served part of their political apprenticeships in jail.

The Women's Coalition, which appeared from nowhere a few years ago to play an important role in political negotiations, will have two representatives.

One of these, Monica McWilliams, was recently appointed professor of women's studies at the University of Ulster. She has in the past complained of brushes with Mr Paisley's party, saying: "It's not just that it's an adversarial style: this is very sectarian, sometimes it's sexist, and it's personal insults as well."

Most will hope that the assembly, with its varied range of personalities, will function in a rather better atmosphere.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk