Martin McGuinness: “This decision is a very decisive decision…”

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…and not at all another fudge to keep the Department of Justice upright while they re-apply the same sticking plaster as last time.

And as TUV leader Jim Allister said, “The Committee, of course, will lend itself to that farce.”

According to the Northern Ireland deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness

Mr McGuinness said the office of the first and deputy first minister was committed to tackling “the size of the assembly and the number of departments”.

“The whole issue of d’Hondt will be considered in the course of our deliberations through 2012 and we’ve committed to getting a resolution to that,” he said.

“This decision is a very decisive decision, it’s about leadership in the absence of consensus and it’s about moving forward in a way that gives confidence to people, that the work of policing and justice is not in any way going to be damaged or interrupted.”

Of course you have… and of course it is…  Here’s what the OFMDFM press release has to say about the “Stormont Castle proposals”

  • Without prejudice to the arrangements following the next Assembly election, or the outcome of the review required by the Northern Ireland (St Andrew’s Agreement) Act 2006, the Assembly will be asked to pass a resolution to extend the present cross-community vote provision for the election of the Justice Minister beyond May 2012. Whatever measures are possible and necessary to ensure that the tenure of the Justice Minister is consistent with other Ministers will be put in place.
  • Notwithstanding this resolution, alternative options including incorporating the allocation of the Justice Ministry by d’Hondt with a reduction in the number of government departments could be given particular consideration. The post election position should be considered as a matter of urgency as part of the PFG commitment to agree changes to the post 2015 structures in 2012 to allow for the introduction of any necessary legislation at Stormont or at Westminster [added emphasis]

And the draft Programme for Government? [Page 52 of 55 (pdf file)]

Agree any changes to post-2015 structures of Government in 2012 (OFMDFM) (To be carried out in consultation with political parties) [added emphasis]

How’s that for commitment

Back to the BBC report

SDLP Environment Minister Alex Attwood said the proposal was a “missed opportunity”.

“The SDLP argued that d’Hondt and only d’Hondt should be the standard for distribution of ministerial office,” he said.

“The DUP and Sinn Fein have also decided, with the stroke of a pen, to do away with a government department. As with d’Hondt, both again demonstrate a fast and loose approach to government, deciding in a blink of an eye which departments stay or go.

“This decision, taken without proper interrogation and consideration, looks arbitrary and political.”

And, on the sideshow distraction that is the axing of the Department of Employment and Learning, the BBC report again

Mr Ford said his party was not against a reduction in the number of assembly departments but said there was a need for a single strong department of the economy.

“We see what is apparently a carve-up, a fix to transfer some DEL functions to a Sinn Fein-controlled department in education and some to a DUP-controlled department in department of trade and investment,” he said.

“That looks to me, not just as potentially seen as malicious towards the Alliance Party but is actually extremely bad government, not to keep the economy departments together but to further fragment them when we should be moving towards move streamlined government,” he said.

I would welcome Mr Ford to the dysfunctional semi-detached polit-bureau NI Executive, but he’s been there long enough to recognise it in action…

And as Lord Justice Girvan said yesterday

A working democracy must have in place effective mechanisms for holding the Executive to account if its conduct, actions and practices fall below appropriate standards of good and fair administration.

Indeed.

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  • Dec

    You appear to have missed out Peter Robinson’s contribution. (Of course you have…)

  • wee buns

    “This decision is a very decisive decision..”

    On a par with Enda’s recent
    ”Difficult choices are never easy..”

    No oxy, just plain moronic!

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “missed out Peter Robinson’s contribution”

    Well here’s a small part of it from that BBC link, Dec:

    “However we believe it is our best attempt at trying to get the highest level of consensus and to move forward on a robust basis, so I think we have got a very workable proposal.”

    Well, Peter and Martin do have a certain robust quality!

    The BBC has missed out on Tom Elliott’s qualified welcome for the proposals:

    “Tonight’s proposal, if accepted, will ensure that there is now greater parity around the Executive table based on the electoral strengths of the various parties. It also follows the recommendation arising out of the IREP report [pdf file], which advocated abolishing the Department of Employment and Learning.”

  • Comrade Stalin

    The DUP and SF have no choice with respect to the justice ministry. This doesn’t make them happy, so to make themselves feel better they’re exacting a price from Alliance by cutting their department from the government.

    This also comes just in time for the DUP-SF entity to fudge/block the difficult decisions that are going to have to be made relating to the teacher training colleges at Stranmillis and St Mary’s. Since this is a classic prods ‘n’ taigs issue, we can look forward to the DUP-SF executive burying it rather than confronting it, which is a shame.

    On the other hand, it’s very difficult for Alliance to be seen to be objecting to these proposals given that consolidation of departments is Alliance policy. The party must be careful to ensure that it does not come across as being greedy.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’d note that the BBC report also has McGuinness talking about reviewing d’Hondt.

    Is this the first indication in public that SF are conceding some ground on the issue of how the Executive is appointed ?

    “”The whole issue of d’Hondt will be considered in the course of our deliberations through 2012 and we’ve committed to getting a resolution to that,” he said.”

  • Pete Baker

    “You appear to have missed out Peter Robinson’s contribution.”

    Well, Dec, if he had said something idiotic as well, then I would have quoted him too.

    But he didn’t.

    Nevin

    Despite what Tom Elliot says, that’s not what that report recommended.

    Here’s what the report, commissioned by the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster MLA, in December 2008 and published in September 2009, actually recommended

    As part of the review of strand one institutions, the core economic functions (covering existing DETI and DEL areas of responsibility) should be brought together under a single ‘Department of the Economy’

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “he had said something idiotic as well”

    Peter’s ‘our best attempt at trying to get the highest level of consensus’ is unlikely to be a reference to all of the parties represented in the Executive. Does that make it idiotic – or worse? Alex Attwood claims there was no ‘proper interrogation and consideration’.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Peter,

    You’re into serious nitpick territory. Isn’t DETI the “department of the economy” for the purposes being discussed here ?

  • Pete Baker

    No Comrade.

    It’s a recommendation for a complete re-alignment of responsibilities.

  • Coll Ciotach

    why does Ford not do the honest and honourable thing and resign as justice minister? Alliance has the right to a ministry as is and does not need to be accepting scraps from the masters. That would allow the keeping of DEL as Alliance can claim it and whoever wants Justice can have it, perhaps the SDLP. Let Marty and Peter suck on that one.

  • Comrade Stalin

    why does Ford not do the honest and honourable thing and resign as justice minister?

    Because to do so would be neither honest nor honourable. Ford serves at the request of the assembly.

    Alliance has the right to a ministry as is and does not need to be accepting scraps from the masters.

    Alliance does not believe that it or any other party has a “right” to a ministry, it believes that the jobs should be allocated by a vote in the assembly. It is completely consistent that Ford remains as JM. Consistency also requires that the decision to axe DEL be accepted with good grace, although it is hard to dispute the fact that it appears on the outside to be a lot more to do with politics than it is to do with reducing Assembly/executive overhead.

    That would allow the keeping of DEL as Alliance can claim it and whoever wants Justice can have it, perhaps the SDLP.

    SDLP supporters need to stop going on about this. Seriously. Whinging just pisses people off.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    Comrade Stalin, surely the earlier appointment of David to the Ministry of Justice and the decision to axe/redistribute DEL are both the result of an OFMDFM ‘behind the scenes’ deal.

  • tuatha

    Was there ever a more blatant example of lips moving but saying SFA than the quote Weebuns rightly deemed oxymoronic?
    Surely no semi sentient mammalian, able to put one foot in front of the other, without assistance – which necessarily excludes such simulacrae as Steeleyes & McG – could say such a thing, unless so subsumed by process as to forget that, beyond the (A/C ameliorated, double glazed window) there is a real world where people speak a mutually intelligible language.
    Roll on Dystopia, it couldn’t be worse than this trahison des clercs who didn’t have the wit in the first instance to contest (Good Solider) Schweik for his exalted post.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “This decision is a very decisive decision…”

    Sounds a bit odd but when you substitute a couple of synonyms for ‘decisive’ you get “This decision is a very determined and single-minded decision”. I doubt if that’s far off the mark if you view ‘single’ as Peter and Martin. What are the chances of Tom, Alasdair and David changing it?

  • 241934 john brennan

    ‘Decision is decisive’. This Martin McGuiness double speak is an understandable fudge, to escape from truth and logic in a smokescreen of repeated words.

    The logic is that, when it comes to the post of Justice Minister, Martin agreed with Peter to suspend the mathematical fairness of d’Hondt, for the old gerrymander – ‘no nationalist need apply’

    Martin used the same repetition of words in his presidential election campaign – understanding why some people use the word murder in relation to the murder of their relatives – while not admitting that they were actually murdered by the Provisionals.

    So the agreed germander of the justice minister post becomes a decisive decision by the SF/DUP duopoly – so that makes it kosher. OK?

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    ‘no nationalist need apply’

    jb, I think you’re misreading it. I view it as ‘splitting the difference’ between, as you aptly note, the duopoly.

    Despite protestations to the contrary – see Attwood above – the SDLP doesn’t defend d’Hondt to the last ditch. If d’Hondt had been applied in Moyle Council in 2011 the chairmanship would have gone to SF, not to an Independent (ex-SF) councillor.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “Isn’t DETI the “department of the economy” for the purposes being discussed here ?”

    Comrade Stalin, I tuned in to the final 20 mins of ETI committee session today; 5 of the 11 members were present.

  • 241934 john brennan

    Nevin; ‘no nationalist need apply’ is in fact the only correct interpretation of the SF/DUP duoploly position.
    Peter will never agree to any nationlist in the post of justice minister? Whereas Martin does agree to a Unionst with a small u as justice minister for an indefinite period – and this after telling the troops that SF would have real imput into police accountability, including MI5′s interface with PSNI

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    John Brennan, here’s Jim Allister making the ‘no Unionist need apply’ point. APNI may, from time to time, assist Unionists or Nationalists but it’s in the Others category.

    There’s a lack of accountability both with MI5′s and Dublin civil servants’ interface with the PSNI. If you don’t know about the latter ask an SDLP politician for illumination.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Nevin,

    Comrade Stalin, surely the earlier appointment of David to the Ministry of Justice and the decision to axe/redistribute DEL are both the result of an OFMDFM ‘behind the scenes’ deal.

    It’s entirely normal for coalition governments (and indeed governments in general) to reach agreement over certain matters in private before presenting them to parliament or to the public.

    It’s the motivation behind such decisions that we need to analyse.

    the SDLP doesn’t defend d’Hondt to the last ditch.

    Correct, the SDLP object to d’Hondt when it means they lose out. They complained about the use of the d’Hondt system in Larne a while backunder similar circumstances.

    john brennan:

    Nevin; ‘no nationalist need apply’ is in fact the only correct interpretation of the SF/DUP duoploly position.

    Two years on and SDLP supporters are still whinging. It is a shame, after all this time, that the SDLP see fit to focus on the fact that the minister is a Prod, and not on the minister’s record.

    Peter will never agree to any nationlist in the post of justice minister? Whereas Martin does agree to a Unionst with a small u as justice minister for an indefinite period –

    SF do not want the SDLP to take the seat, because they don’t want to give the SDLP control over a prestigious job. The DUP do not want the UUP to take the seat, for the same reason.

    I appreciate that for you everything comes down to prods and taigs, but it’s not necessarily the reason for everything.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “It’s the motivation behind such decisions that we need to analyse.”

    Comrade Stalin, the present arrangements have been in place since May 2007. What conclusions have you come to about Executive decision making?

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    Perhaps I should have phrased that ‘the present or similar arrangements’.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I haven’t come to any conclusions so far Nevin, it’s something of a work in progress. I don’t see how this changes the fact that your characterization of coalition partners cutting deals with each other in private as something shady or underhand is inaccurate.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    Comrade Stalin, I’m having difficulty interpreting your second sentence! Can you please clarify?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Nevin,

    You’re right, it is a bit of a tongue-twister.

    My point is that I see nothing unusual about the DUP and SF cutting deals in private. This happens everywhere, it’s politics. In any case, I don’t see what it has to do with your implication that the executive hasn’t been very effective.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “This happens everywhere, it’s politics.”

    Comrade Stalin, the 1998 Agreement creates the impression that all voices are to be heard, that the Executive Committee provides a forum for the discussion of and agreement on key issues affecting government under the co-ordination of the OFMDFM. Instead we keep being told that key issues are settled in the OFMDFM in advance and some position papers are delivered after the meetings have begun. David and others have echoed my observation that this is a carve-up; I’ve occasionally gone further and called it a dictatorship.

    I’ve also referred to Committees as ineffective in the sense that the DUP and SF usually have a built-in majority, leaving the smaller parties to most intents and purposes out in the cold. Correct me if I’m wrong but that wonderful PAC open session on July 1, 2010 when McGlone, Dallat and Purvis put some folks through the mill re. NI Water – and members of the public added to the pressure – was the one and only open session on the matter.

  • wee buns

    Nevin writes:
    ”….the 1998 Agreement creates the impression that all voices are to be heard..”

    It’s worth noting that this particular variant of democracy is the result of a politically engineered consociational agreement – the main goals of which is the avoidance of violence – meaning of paramount importance is governmental stability & the survival of the power-sharing arrangements.
    Mutual veto is a central characteristic; inclusivity a major causality, despite lip service to the contrary.
    This carve up is a perfect demonstration of the flaws of the consociational formula of the agreement surely.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Anyway, question if D’Hondt were rerun and justice weren’t on the table would it still run …

    DUP – Finance
    Sinn Féin – Education (and Universities)
    DUP – Enterprise, Trade, Investment (and Employment)
    UUP Regional Development
    Sinn Féin Agriculture – not sure which.
    SDLP Environment
    DUP – Social Development
    Sinn Féin – Culture, Sport & Arts
    DUP – Health

    First three … DUP will take Finance that’s clear, Certainly there’s another attempt for Sinn Féin to grab Enterprise, Trade & Investment … then again that would leave DUP in charge of Education.

    Four to Nine… The big question here, is the big budget here … who will go for Health?

    DUP –
    The DUP took Health over DEL picking up the pieces from the rest, as difficult as the role is taking this portfolio does ensure they have more say over the budget. If it wasn’t the plan already Edwin Poots will probably stand aside to advance Jim Wells

    Sinn Féin –

    Taking health would be a statement of intent , De Brún had the role before if I’m not mistaken. I don’t know who McGuinness would nominate though, committee chair Michelle Gildernew? perhaps Ruane or Murphy? Martin does like to promote fresh talent, so Michaela Boyle, Micky Brady, outside chance of Daithí McKay?

    Ulster Unionist – probably a chance to redeem themselves after the radiotherapy centre fiasco, two of the three issues were communications, the last was budgetary, unfortunately without the centre there would be more budgetary pressures on radiotherapy services … as for the nominated minister, McGimpsey would probably not return to the role, John McAllister both health spokesperson and committee member would seem the likely choice.

    Social Democratic & Labour Party – Haven’t held the health portfolio since Paddy Devlin I believe, and seeing how McGimpsey was perhaps targeted for retribution by the SF/DUP leadership from the outside, they know as much as the UUP it is a gamble for the smaller parties to take it. But like the UUP, it does carry more responsibilities and would have more resonance with the population. Who to select? Ignoring the leaders, assuming Attwood isn’t kept for a third portfolio and basing it on profile and experience my best guess would be Patsy McGlone.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Nevin,

    Comrade Stalin, the 1998 Agreement creates the impression that all voices are to be heard,

    No, it doesn’t. The Agreement’s structures provide for the largest voices to be heard, the smaller voices to be shouted down, and the smallest voices to be silenced completely.

    that the Executive Committee provides a forum for the discussion of and agreement on key issues affecting government under the co-ordination of the OFMDFM. Instead we keep being told that key issues are settled in the OFMDFM in advance and some position papers are delivered after the meetings have begun

    I can’t really defend the executive when it comes to governing in a collective fashion, but what that has to do with “fairness” I do not know. The government that we have is a direct consequence of the people that we have elected to run it. Democracy trumps any notion of fairness.

    and some position papers are delivered after the meetings have begun. David and others have echoed my observation that this is a carve-up; I’ve occasionally gone further and called it a dictatorship.

    It’s not a dictatorship when you keep voting them back in.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    CS, you’re taking it all a bit too literally! Governing without the consent of the smaller parties might be labelled democracy but it’s really an expression of dictatorship.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Governing without the consent of the smaller parties might be labelled democracy but it’s really an expression of dictatorship.

    This is complete and total rubbish on a number of different levels.

    Firstly, the consent of smaller parties is not required for a government to be democratic.

    Secondly, isn’t it inconsistent to say that the smaller parties don’t consent to the way the government is being run when they are in fact a willing part of it ?

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “they are in fact a willing part of it”

    CS, my comments are set in the context of NI politics where governance prior to 1998 was by London in association with Dublin and with some input from Washington. As Sir Patrick Mayhew pointed out this intergovernmental activity was not subject to parliamentary scrutiny; there was no accountability. An FoI request would not release information about, say, the role of Dublin civil servants from Justice and Foreign Affairs in day-to-day policing and policy decisions here.

    It’s my presumption that David Trimble decided to take a risk in 1998 in agreeing to the 1998 Agreement in order to have some Unionist input into our governance rather than none. Perhaps the smaller parties in the Executive have decided to remain there for much the same reason.

    Dublin is still being secretive about its Northern Ireland role – and I doubt if much background information can be found on the CAIN website or in the QUB Institute of Governance website.

  • Comrade Stalin

    All very interesting Nevin, but you were trying to suggest that the Agreement was supposedly about fairness. The basis for your suggestion is still unclear.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    I was using fairness in the context of this definition of fair, CS:

    “marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism – ‘a very fair person to do business with’”

    Fair appears a few times in the 1998 Agreement but fairness only once. You’ll find the definition’s fair attributes in the Agreement as well as in the Ministerial Code. The make-up of the Executive would probably pass the tests of the Fair Employment Commission.

    The Stormont model is potentially fairer than the Westminster one. In the latter case, a party with a large majority of seats but a relatively small percentage of the vote can produce a Government that acts virtually independently of the Commons.

    For me the Agreement has indeed a fair spirit but would have required a form of shared sovereignty to give this spirit more leverage; I’d also merge Strands 2 and 3 – in this interest of fairness.

    If you browse NALIL blog you’ll see where I’ve attempted to hold central and local government to account on numerous occasions – based on the fair definition. You’ll see there a fair damsel – by a different definition – building on the attempts by myself and others.