As I explained here, the role of First Minister and deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland is nothing like as important or powerful in practice as it sounds. Whereas the First Minister in Scotland and now in Wales has a Director’s role, the First and deputy First Ministers in Northern Ireland remain merely Chairs. Even their Ministerial functions, shared rather ludicrously with two extra Junior Ministers with no fewer than eight “Special Advisers”, apply only to the tiny Executive Office.
In fact, for all the fuss made about who is First and who is deputy First, the craziest thing is that the role may not even be necessary at all.
It would be quite possible simply to remove the office from the relevant legislation. An Executive would proceed to be formed, and then the largest parties in each designation in the Executive could simply nominate one of their Ministers their “Senior Minister”, who would perhaps receive a small additional allowance to perform the role of joint Chair of the Executive and whatever representative functions arise. In fact, it would be quite possible for this role to rotate around the Ministers over an Assembly term.
This would have three happy consequences: it would remove the expense which currently comes with such an unnecessary role (no specific extra Ministerial salaries; no Special Advisers; no Junior Ministers); it would remove the delusions of grandeur which have led to its being performed so abysmally; and it would remove the whole issue from Assembly Election campaigns, allowing the focus to be on competence and policy where it should be.
Indeed, you would wonder at anyone opposing this idea…