Today, there are two anniversaries. The big one, which I have already alluded to in an earlier post two days ago is the 30th Anniversary of Mrs. Thatcher becoming Prime Minister.
A rather lesser known anniversary is that the current Stormont Executive in which the DUP and Sinn Fein respectively hold the First and Deputy first Ministries, is now two years old.
Plenty has happened in those two years. It began with Revd.Ian Paisley becoming the First Minister at the twilight of his career. Going into partnership with Sinn Fein prompted much anger amongst many of the DUP’s own supporters. This has caused a schism within the DUP. Their MEP, Jim Allister, resigned from the DUP, formed his own party and took with him a very substantial chunk of their support. We do not yet know how much of the DUP is left. There have been no opinion polls and the only yardstick we have had is the Dromore Council by-election.
Ian Paisley retired to make way for Peter Robinson. Straight away, there was difficulty as Sinn Fein boycotted executive meetings in response to apparent failure to devolve policing and justice. This was a battle of nerves which the DUP eventually won. Having accepted that they all faced electoral fallout if they did not get back to Government, they reached a deal on devolution of Police and Justice last November. The DUP now control the timing of devolution of Police and Justice.
The months of Executive inactivity meant that the Executive had to act quickly on certain matters. They almost tripped over themselves as they brought in the Financial Assistance Bill described by some politicians as “emergency powers” legislation to enable certain welfare payments including winter fuel poverty allowances to be paid. In the middle of the debate on the Bill, Mark Durkan fell foul of Parliamentary standards.
At about the same time, it was near “crunch time” on academic selection. With no yielding from the Unionists, no legislation could be brought forth to end it. The Education Minister, Catriona Ruane faced with two assembly motions to put temporary tests in place chose to leave matters at an impasse. This has forced Grammar Schools to “do their own thing.” In effect, the system remains without a centrally organized transfer test exam and no orderly system for the administration of admissions.
With the impact of the recession increasing, it was inevitable that the pre-agreed financing of the Programme for Government might need to be revised. Pressure has come to bear on Nigel Dodds, the Minister for Finance to reach agreement through the executive for changes to the finance package. UUP politicians have made reference to a 1 billion “black hole” which so far, Dodds has denied. On the other hand, there has been recent acknowledgement by the DUP that there will have to be cuts in public spending. This issue is set to develop further.
The most colourful of Northern Ireland’s politicians is the DUP’s Sammy Wilson. Who ever would have thought that the Minister for the Environment would turn out to be a denier that climate change was man made? Who would have thought that he would have interfered with Government advertising campaigns to help people save energy? Rumour is growing around Stormont that Sammy Wilson will be removed after the June 4th election. If that is true, it will take away some of the fun for journalists and bloggers like me. To be honest though, it would be the right decision.
Other ministries have had a relatively quiet time, or have they? Margaret Ritchie, the Minister has been in the spotlight recently for having her decision to withdraw funding for Farset, which was quashed by the Courts. Michele Gildernew, the Agriculture Minister, gave a demonstration of how ideology affected decision-making in her department. She also became embroiled in controversy over the handing out of grants under the Rural Development Programme for Northern Ireland (2007-13)
Dissident Republican terrorism brought about the murder of a police officer and two soldiers. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister had the opportunity to display solidarity. Martin McGuiness, in particular, sailed as far as anybody from his party could go on criticizing the dissidents with his now famous quote: “they are traitors to the Island of Ireland.”
Overall, it has been an interesting two years. We have seen the parties bash each other like never before. The opposition have scored some hits, most notably over double jobbing and expenses whilst the DUP and Sinn Fein have scored a massive own-goal over bullying and their war with the media.
Of course, the defects in power sharing are there for all to see. There is no such thing as collective cabinet responsibility and there is resultantly much more negativity in decision making. The impasse on educational issues is a classic example of that.
The next two years of the Executive are likely to be just as interesting as the first two. In the Belfast Telegraph today, the Challenges facing the Executive have been identified in the areas of Devolution of Policing and Justice, Education, Irish Language, National Stadium Funding, the Review of Public Administration and Parades. These are all contentious issues, yet somehow I feel that cuts in public spending will be at the centre of contention.
As the recession continues to bite, one is left wondering how vulnerable to negative voter opinion the UUP and the SDLP are as occupiers of the 3 most high-spending ministries. Will they be politically vulnerable to high-profile spending cuts? Will the DUP be tempted to try and abuse its position as the controller of Finance Ministry? We shall see.
Filed under: Academic selection, Agriculture, Animal Welfare, Assembly, Caitriona Ruane, Climate change, Crime, Double Jobbing, Economy, Education, eleven plus, Environment, Ideology, Irish Language, Jim Allister, Margaret Ritchie, Mark Durkan, Martin McGuiness, Michelle Gildernew, MP's Expenses, Nigel Dodds, Northern ireland, Northern Ireland politics, Peter Robinson, Sammy Wilson, SDLP, Sinn Fein, Stormont | Tagged: Academic selection, Agriculture, Animal Welfare, Assembly, Caitriona Ruane, Climate change, Conservative Party, Crime, Double Jobbing, Economy, Education, eleven plus, Energy, Environment, Executive, Ideology, Irish Language, Jim Allister, Margaret Ritchie, Mark Durkan, Martin McGuiness, Michelle Gildernew, MP's Expenses, Nigel Dodds, Northern ireland, Northern Ireland Finance, Northern Ireland politics, Peter Robinson, Police and Justice, Political Ideology, Power Sharing, Sammy Wilson, SDLP, Sinn Fein, Stormont, UUP | Leave a Comment »