FM and dFM troubles: “a lot more work to be done before there’s true unity…”

Well, what a homecoming! No sooner had the First Minister got down off the steps of his transatlantic flight than Jane Loughrey of UTV was on hand to ask some relevant questions… And there at 2.56 is Peter’s immortal line, “Stop reading the Irish News…”

It spawned three pages of coverage in that paper the following day, Saturday. Then today there was a response to the story, carried in the Irish News itself:

“At no time has the first minister called for a boycott of any news-paper his ‘stop reading The Irish News’ comment was directed, in good humour, at a UTV journalist who had asked a question quoting an analysis that relationships in [the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister] were frosty,” the spokesman said. Any sensible person who watched the UTV clip will know this is a concocted story.”

So, that’s not a boycott then. But, and this is where it starts to get interesting: where did the Irish News get the idea that relations between the two men were frosty? For what its worth, I don’t believe they actually are, particularly. But something is definitely not working between them.

Last Thursday the paper’s pol corr John Manley reported DUP disgruntlement with Sinn Fein’s press office for “lifting tracts of an official press release and issuing it under Mr McGuinness’s name”. We can only presume it was this one.

The DUP sources went on to say that they (ie, the FM’s side of the office) had no problem publishing the details of the expenses on the trip. But then again, this was in response to a private briefing from Sinn Fein’s press office suggesting that Mr Robinson was the block.

That, it seems, has been a running problem before, during and since the trip. Questions tabled by Mike Nesbitt and Conall McDevitt still have had no reply. By contrast a similar request in the Welsh Assembly was treated as routine so that the following question from Nick Ramsay (Monmouth) asked on 7th March:

Will the Minister detail all costs associated with the trade mission to Los Angeles from 28 February to 2 March 2013, including costs for anyone who accompanied her on the trip. (WAQ64270)

Was answered promptly the following week by 12th March:

The Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science (Edwina Hart): I was accompanied by two members of staff. The total cost was £17,006.62 (£15,778.77 for travel and £1,227.85 for accommodation).

Disarmingly uncomplicated, or what? You ask a question; we give you the answer! Yet in Northern Ireland we are still waiting for a rely to Jim Allister’s numerous requests for information on the Chinese trip late last year.

The deputy First Minister was somewhat on the defensive himself when he tweeted back to our own Alan In Belfast:

Let them eat Tweets, he said!

Gary McDonald, in very useful survey of the historic role of trade missions and their essentially long term pay back, noted the tweet Saturday’s Irish News and had this to say:

In fact, not only were the media not told of the trip in advance but reporters aren’t normally invited on trade missions because of “commercial sensitivities” around participants doing business and having private one-on-one meetings on their trips. Emphasis added

[Psssttt. No Trade Minister on a Trade Mission? How's that, ahem, story holding up for youse? - Ed] As Tom Kelly observes of the First and deputy First Minister today, “both men are politically stuck with each other as closely and involuntarily as conjoined twins”. He goes on to note:

In reality [Stormont] is a tetchy and mistrustful place where wounds and scabs are regularly picked over by mainstream politicians to satisfy the lowest common denominator in either tribe.

Politicians blame the media for their woes but as the low turnout in the Mid Ulster by election proved, the stagnation is much closer to home. It is clar that more people are opting out of voting because representatives are becoming increasingly removed from the reality of every day living and its economic challenges.

Time to list to the message and stop shooting the messenger.

Quite. It’s almost as though they were waiting for the tide to go out. Or to quote a less than impressed POTUS:

“There’s a lot more work to be done before there’s true unity in that office country.”

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  • keano10

    Mick,

    It’s a pity you did’nt quote the full column by Tom Kelly in today’s Irish News as it contained perhaps the biggest load of hogwash that i have read in a local newspaper in a long, long time. (not for one minute that Tom might have his own agenda or political allegiance etc,,,)

    Tom surmised that Sinn Fein have absolutely no power at all in the current coalition with the DUP. He went on to say that the Stormont is currently being run by a Unionist Junta and that Sinn Fein are on the brink of setting back the equality agenda by 50 years. In fact he makes that dramatic assertion twice in his column without ever really remotely explaining why he had come to such a dramatic conclusion.

    Seriously how much are these columnists paid by local papers for producing this drivel??

    There are many contributors on Slugger who could do a miles better job for a lot less money…

  • Mick Fealty

    You putting yourself forwards? I certainly would not agree with the full sweep of Tom’s analysis, particularly around equality.

    I do think he’s on to something though. We are starting to see some product come from the DUP end of the Executive table. Not much from the three SF ministries other than making schools responsible for ‘sacking themselves’.

    My own take is that that’s a result of SF’s mind being somewhere else other than developing its capacity to take decisions in government.

    We’ve already seen in Agriculture just how that can throw up dangerous opportunities for your opponents. It looks to me like SF have simply not given any sustain thought as to what they want to do with power once they have it.

    They’ve also been running with ideal rather than good enough solutions. Functional investment in the Irish language rather than asking for an Act they know the DUP will refuse is not good coalition politics.

    Sooner or later you’re own voters are going to start looking at why you can’t deliver anything for them.

  • http://www.thedissenter.co.uk thedissenter

    Was away at the weekend and saw a few tweet references to the IN boycott call. Really? Not from this interview. Only if you are paranoid or desparate to make more of your own importance than is ever merited. Behind the paywall the IN doesn’t get much mention anymore. If it had three pages on the basis of what was said here, don’t think a boycott would be greatest of its worries.

  • Granni Trixie

    I took the ref to I.News by FM yesterday as an attempt at humour.

    Reading today’s INEWS supposed story of a boycott I thought it was a prime example of a newspaper generated story out of nothing.
    (Can’t believe. I’m agreeing with DUP explanation, doesn’t happen often).

  • Mick Fealty

    Agreement there. However the real story is OFMdFM insouciance.

  • son of sam

    Keano 10 refers to Tom Kelly’s column today as “hogwash”.How would he categorise Jim Gibney’s Thursday column?More often than not ,it’s a party political for Sinn Fein.At least the Irish News provides a platform for most viewpoints.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    Perhaps our media should cut’n’paste from the President’s press release:

    I’m sure we [President and Taoiseach] will also touch on the issue of Northern Ireland in which we have continued to see progress coming out of the Good Friday agreements, but we also have to recognize that there’s a lot more work to be done before there’s true unity of effort in that country. And I know that both in discussions with the Taoiseach as well as in talking to the ministers who are here from Northern Ireland, we’ll have an opportunity to find out how the United States can be helpful in that overall effort as well.

    Political and economic progress would require a significant change to the 1998 Agreement as well as a toning down of the two opposing constitutional aspirations; greater effort in our tug-of-war might well break the rope. Only London and Dublin are empowered to break this log-jam but I’d imagine they’ll do nothing so long as there’s no threat to the major institutions in these two islands.

  • keano10

    Son of Sam,

    FYI – As it happens I’m not in favour of reps from ANY party writing columns for newspapers. Having said that I have yet to read Jim Gibney writing anything quite as ludicrous as Tom Kelly did today. A Unionist Junta ruling Stormont in 2013 is not something with which I am familiar. Nor are many others I fear. So “hogwash” is indeed what this was.

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks Nev. Underlines my original point, somewhat. I don’t agree the Agreements at fault, necessarily. Two rigid parties, one rigid system. Stagnation. If they can’t compromise the administration they agreed, they’re not going to agree to change it, are they?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mick,

    I thought it was a reasonably well known fact behind the scenes that the FM and DFM do not get on well at all (in contrast to when Paisley was FM). This is mostly down to Robinson. Robbo hates the idea of the double-headed ministry where every little thing has to be done jointly; and he’s not the most personable at the best of times. Both men are responsible enough to know that they have to put on a show of unity when they are in public but that is as far as it goes.

    Signs of a public rift became apparent some weeks ago when Martin McGuinness revealed that Robinson refused to do a joint statement with him on the steps of Stormont condemning all the flag-related violence and rioting.

  • Kevin Says

    Granni Trixi, it’s been pretty well documented that Peter Robinson has maintained a personal boycott of the Irish News since he become first minister. The clip from UTV shows that he was asked a routine question about tensions within the OFMDFM, with no mention of the paper, and quite abruptly said; `Stop reading the Irish News.’ According to their report, the paper repeatedly asked his office for a clarification. He said nothing from Thursday until Sunday, by which stage the whole debate had gone viral, with political commentators offering their thoughts, tweets all over the place and eventually a critical motion from the executive council of the NUJ. Peter then provided a belated statement which claimed he had been joking – not quite his normal form – but still called the Irish News `pathetic’ and attention-seeking, which is a bit of a clue as to his general attitude to the media. His own Twitter account, which is well worth a look, contains recent digs at both the Belfast Telegraph and the News Letter, it is well known that he loathes the BBC and he will have nothing to do with either of the Belfast Sunday papers. Some people might conclude that there is a bit of a pattern there.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Kevin,

    Are you so dense …?

    In fairness I have to admit that I probably would be massively polite to a journalist doorstepping me right after I got off a plane following a long transatlantic flight.

  • Granni Trixie

    Kevin says

    I am quite well aware (as implied, like the dogs in the street) of Robbos stand off with I. News, BBC which surely goes right back to Irisgate times. Nevertheless, after seeing TV news where he made what some are interpreting as a call to boycott,I am no doubt that it was his wee joke.
    Should also say that it also obvious that he now ‘hates’ Bel Tel for its reporting on flegs news and for generally not beng in unionists pocket.

  • Kevin Says

    Perhaps Peter would suggest that his `are you so dense ?’ remark in the celebrated interview posted above by Comrade Stalin was another example of his good humour. The other explanation, quite sadly in many cases, is that what he says is what he actually means.

  • Mick Fealty

    CS,

    I’m not a great fan of ‘reasonably well known fact[s] behind the scenes’… they come with the same health warning as ‘sources say’…

    I’ve met both men, several times. Interviewed Peter once for the FT just after Leeds Castle in 2004, then in 07 for Total Politics, and then in ’11 short election piece for Slugger. They ranged from tense, to relaxed (going on exhausted) to humorous and jovial.

    Martin on each of the three occasions I’ve met him (I’ve never formally interviewed him) was direct, cordial and charming… But then again, if you are only looking for charm that’s all you’ll find. Anne Marie Hourihan last summer (http://goo.gl/aHgBi):

    The thing is, Martin seems to have rushed from paramilitary terrorism to full-on celebrity without an intervening period of normality, or even of democracy. Pray God he doesn’t enter Celebrity Bainisteoir, or we’ll have him made Taoiseach For Life before the final.

    What we’ve got to remember is what Sinn Féin has already grasped: celebrity is the most effective weapon in modern life. It looks democratic, but it ain’t.

    Martin McGuinness looks great, he sounds great. So it doesn’t matter that he has no ideas about the future, that his party is more conservative than the Tories and as impressively diligent as any of our own lovely political parties in claiming all its expenses.

    So whilst Peter got shirty with the media, Martin just patronised them: “Mr McGuinness added that he was a “homebird” and that the ministers were making personal sacrifices being away from their families.”

    But I don’t for a moment think that the state of their personal relationships says anything nearly much about OFMdFM as its sheer lack of productivity.

    The lack of any PR outputs around their in camera meeting with the Prez is telling, and the fact that the press were excluded.

    And the message from the Prez himself didn’t exactly hit the wall, with his no “true unity of effort” remarks, did he?

    Sharpest comment yet was on the UTV website:

    “Marty and Peter should maybe concentrate on sorting out NI first, then by all means go knocking doors looking for trade, WHEN THEY HAVE SOMETHING TO SELL! :)

    Now if only Martin could get a word in with the boss about getting that job advert out for the ILEX job (there’s even a template they can use from the last time, when OFMdFM didn’t have any pesky politicians stopping them from doing anything).

  • Comrade Stalin

    Here’s a 1980s documentary on Peter, it’s interesting noting what aspects of his attitude towards journalists haven’t changed.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mick,

    Your last set of paragraphs rather confirm those “sources behind the scenes”. I’d say OFMDFM’s lack of productivity probably has a lot to do with the poor relationship between the two men.

  • BluesJazz

    Good to see Sinn Fein asking the Army to help out today:
    Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill asked the secretary of state for urgent access to helicopter support.

    Not just recognition of the British Army by SF, but a plea for help! Hopefully thanks to the Army by the agriculture minister and the DFM will be forthcoming. In a low key manner of course.

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s the celeb storyline CS. It doesn’t explain how/why very little of what goes into OFMdFM ever comes out again. That’s politics, not a personality driven problem.

    My take is pretty simple. There’s a mismatch. Peter is CEO of the DUP and Martin is a senior manager who nevertheless has to refer everything up to the board for approval. But the Board are only working on how position themselves for a hostile takeover elsewhere. So nothing ever comes back.

    Peter twiddles his thumbs, trying not to get angry. Martin smiles at the cameras every so often and palms the press off with charming but patronising answers to their questions and then occasionally gets drafted by the board to do ‘vital work’ on the hostile takeover. Ergo, bugger all happens.

    It’s a view I aired on RTE recently… Clip to Fran McNulty’s question at 7.57…

    And when it was put to Gerry the next week, he did not attempt to refute it.. http://goo.gl/TnrC1

    There may well be a personality clash. But dwelling on that is a distraction from the politics of the matter..

  • GavBelfast

    Far be it from me to defend Robinson – a man and a politician I have never liked or respected – but this “don’t read The Irish News” stuff really is a non-story, concocted way out of proportion, and typical of the “woe is me” crap so prevalent in this part of the word.

    Meh!

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “Good to see Sinn Fein asking the Army to help out today”

    BJ, the world of Slugger appears to have missed the atrocious weather conditions in the Glens of Antrim:

    “Diggers clearing the West Torr Road, Ballycastle, from around eight feet of snow in the early hours of Monday morning”

    Moyle Cllr Paudie McShane is underwhelmed by one official response: “Road Service informed me that a decision would not be made to task the contractors until Monday morning at the earliest.”

  • Mick Fealty

    It was at the very least an over reaction surely Gav. But then odd things are happening here. A political party successfully sued for malicious libel. Refusal to disclose even the most routine details.
    And a unwillingness to amend a libel law intended to liberalize comment in Scotland as well as England and Wales.

    Its almost as though they don’t want us to see east they’re not doing?

  • Mick Fealty

    You are right Nev. I missed Paudies statement. Is there much snow in that forest you’re in right now?

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin
  • FDM

    I think there are a lot of people grasping and generally over-reaching in their comments here.

    If you accept as a premise that you can’t even decide or prove that the two individuals involved get on or not on a personal level, then you know you are in trouble building upon that foundation.

    To then attempt to surmise, extrapolate political interaction, decision making, deals, negotiations, strategies when we are collectively so out of the loop is rather foolhardy.

    Two questions.

    1. Is it in Sinn Feins interests for Northern Ireland to work?

    2. Who will be seen as culpable for the failure when this house of cards collapses, the organ grinder or the monkey?

    3. Was the GFA and ensuing negotiations a terminus for nationalists or merely seen as some stop(s) along the line?

    If you can answer those three then you will pick SFs strategy in my opinion.

  • FDM

    *Two questions. Using fingers I count three…

  • Reader

    FDM: Is it in Sinn Feins interests for Northern Ireland to work?
    Yes; no; maybe. Do you mean SF North or SF South? Do you mean for the sake of the party machine or the party project (whatever that is these days)?

  • Mick Fealty

    Between the two of you you are asking the right questions…

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “Two rigid parties, one rigid system. Stagnation. If they can’t compromise the administration they agreed, they’re not going to agree to change it, are they?”

    I’d add the more significant two opposing constitutional aspirations. When a design doesn’t deliver it needs to be redesigned; metaphorical kicking is and will continue to be counter-productive.

  • Mick Fealty

    Couldn’t agree more Nev. Just saying it won’t happen under this combo…

  • BluesJazz

    Nevin
    Michelle O Neill was quite matter of fact in asking for Army assistance. The fact that SF regard the military garrison here as normal is quite a move on. SF asking the British Army to help them out is a long way from ‘Brits Out’. Now it’s a case of ‘Brits in!’.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “Just saying it won’t happen under this combo…”

    So, it’s up to London, in association with Dublin, to initiate some serious design modifications. I’m no fan of the Peter and Martin Show but I’ve some sympathy for the predicament in which they find themselves.

  • carl marks

    Nev,
    A Chinook is on its way in, there are three mountain rescue teams (the north west, RAF, and PSNI) working to help.

  • GavBelfast

    I am delighted to see that the SF Agriculture Minister is being “matter of fact” in relation to the army helicopter, RAF, etc. More, please.

    As the RAF has assisted on mercy missions and support in the RoI on more occasions, too, this should be a non-issue.

    As for “Robbo” and The Irish News: what a load of crap!

  • tacapall

    FDM the republican movement since 1983 realised the benefits of collusion and illusion. You cannot change anything in government while your standing outside the door and while your inside the advantage of quietly changing the structure and foundations of government is that for others to block or stop it would be the structures collapsing and the blame falls on those who refused to accept that the foundations were unable to hold up the structures.

    The GFA was always a stepping stone, the only ground you hold going into negotiations is the ground you held the night before, any new arrangements would be far more greener for republicans and nationalists than what we have now, that being one of the reasons why Unionists will never bring down Stormont.

  • BarneyT

    I think if roads were impassable, animals and livelihoods at stake, anyone would call on current state hardware and resources for assistance. To suggest that is an acceptance of their “occupation” is weak and quite clearly designed to provoke for provocations sake.

    With regard to the matter at hand, there is insufficient political, social and cultural common ground for harmony in the north. I would hope that there is little room for a personal relationship to exist between Martin and Peter, as frankly I find Peter to be quite a distasteful man, even bearing in mind Martins past! The best we can currently get is a diluted ineffective compromise but most likely stagnation.

    I think it’s time to take the bull by the horns and to bring the executive down and aim for government and opposition.

    If this presents a risk to the Irish in the north and brings a return to a British orientated and British serving government, it’s a short term risk worth taking. It’s worth noting that the climate does not exist to allow the past events to reoccur. Society via mobile technology and the internet is equipped to evidence gather and expose.

    In time the changes in government may bring society into Orange land for a period…and then back to Apple land for another length of time, sufficiently for the respective programmes to take affect thus allowing us all to experience “alien” manifestos for a period. We might eventually get the right “Pear” in government. (oh I like that).

    We know what we will get from unionism (as we’ve had it before) however the challenge will be for the nationalist and republican governments. They may be presented with an opportunity to entrench but will only do so by governing and serving all, which means catering for existing traditions and softly introducing those that are supposedly new. I don’t see unionism serving all unless the soup is well and truly taken.

  • Gopher

    Well I think I have to blame Stormont collectively for a total failure over this crisis. This was a perfect example of how not to manage one.

  • RegisterForThisSite

    iirc during the outbreak of Foot & Mouth in GB it was claimed NI livestock was Irish (and not British) so surely they should have called the Irish army

    Was the RIR involved, how many medals have they put in for?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Gopher,

    I agree with you. I see politicians touring the damage but I don’t see any Guiliani figures rising up to bang heads together and fix problems. The Executive appears to be in a state of paralysis.

    But sure we’ll all vote the same morons the next go round anyway.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mick, I accept that the story of the two men not getting on well personal is not inherently interesting to serious journalists or commentators but my own gut feel is that it is part of the issue here.

    Your take on things is fair enough and and I can see where you are coming from, but I don’t quite see some of it the same way. I’m not sure that Robinson is quite the CEO figure you think, on a number of levels. For example he killed the proposed reforms to the parades legislation, for no reason other than that the Orange Order refused to back it. The DUP could have made that into a huge propaganda coup (“we acted decisively to abolish the Parades Commission” or somesuch ..). And of course during the recent flags controversy he seemed to have completely lost control of events; the “unionist forum” (heard any more about it recently?) seemed like a desperate, but somewhat futile, attempt to reclaim his own leadership position, as well as trying to exploit what was going on.

    And are you sure that politics is behind the indecision in OFMDFM ? Other ministries are bad at deciding things. Take a look at Health for example and its failure (under various ministers) to issue abortion guidance. That is because we have a class of politicians who are afraid of facing their electorate with some of the tough decisions that sometimes have to be made. They’d rather sit on the fence and posture. Much of what is stalled in OFMDFM, such as the whole shared future (CSI) strategy, is subject to this kind of indecisiveness.

    I’m sure there is a lot of truth to the story that McGuinness gets everything cleared by the leadership (ie Adams). I suspect that has become more of an issue since Adams went south, it sounds like he is being afraid of losing grip on his party.

  • Gopher

    @CS

    I don’t think the executive took the situation seriously until today . There was absolutely no co-ordination of effort, resources were being used in my locality and there was no overiding need or hardship, whilst the people were suffering. The PSNI were invisible on Friday in Belfast with multiple deadly traffic hazards no more than half a mile from some barracks. Not one cop directing traffic despite multiple signals being out at some of the high density junctions in Belfast. They spout road safety Friday proved that is a scam, just a revenue raising scam. Robbo and Marty just seemed oblivious to what was happening.

    Its clear what was needed was like you said someone to sort the mess out and get the heavy metal in from HMG quicker and get the DOE concentrating in the right places. The executive have been up there for years now they should have had something in place to manage a crisis like this

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    Mick, my link response to BlueJazz [March 26; 8:02 am] is still awaiting moderation. I think it would provide some useful background to the ensuing exchanges on this thread.