Sharing of seats devised in 18th century

Northern Ireland's new government
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The Independent Online
AN 18TH century Belgian political scientist laid the foundations for the Northern Ireland power sharing formula by devising a system allocating seats on party strength.

Under the d'Hondt system the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP are each entitled to three ministerial seats, while Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists get two seats each.

The formula used to calculate the order in which ministries are chosen is based on the number of Assembly seats divided by the number of ministerial offices that party already holds, plus 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.

The Ulster Unionists is the biggest Assembly party with 28 seats, followed by the SDLP with 24, then the Democratic Unionists with 20, and Sinn Fein with 18. Therefore, the Ulster Unionists get first pick of ministerial portfolios, then the SDLP, the DUP third and Sinn Fein fourth. Under the formula, the UUP have fifth choice, SDLP sixth and DUP seventh, but then the first-preference votes come into play, giving the UUP eighth pick, Sinn Fein ninth and the SDLP 10th.

Mr Trimble will receive a salary totalling pounds 99,556 - the pounds 37,000 basic Assembly Member's salary plus pounds 62,556 for the top ministerial post.

Mr Mallon's income is pounds 84,504 - but the Deputy First Minister's salary of pounds 47,504 is likely to be raised to match the First Minister's pay. Each of the other 10 ministers will receive pounds 69,451 - their pounds 37,000 basic plus pounds 32,451 for taking on departmental portfolios.