In stymying opposition the DUP/SF coalition looks weak, even when they aren’t.

“It’s an example of fiddling while Rome burns” was Naomi Long’s rather direct and caustic response on The View last night (about 29.40) to the latest controversy to emerge between Sinn Fein and the DUP over, wait for it, the naming of a boat.

The more serious matter, however, concerns the current state of the Opposition. The Opposition day debate (one of only four in the whole parliamentary year allowed by the new DUP/SF administration) was pretty lacklustre.

The SDLP’s rural banking motion was spiked when government parties added an amendment calling (on themselves) to get on with rolling out Broadband: the sum of which, if it ever happens, would do away with the need for rural banking.

The semi detached polite bureau at Stormont Castle shows little appetite for allowing anyone to hold them to account. As Alex Kane noted yesterday, the Speaker seems concerned that too many Private Members Bills are coming through.

According to Alex, the whole idea of opposition was fine in theory, but no one in the DUP or Sinn Fein expected anyone to actually spurn the Ministerial (and Spad) wages and take the hard road instead:

My gut instinct is that the DUP/Sinn Fein supported it for two main reasons: they didn’t want to look like anti-democracy bullies and, more importantly, they reckoned that, even if there was an official Opposition, the UUP and SDLP would opt for the Executive, rather than potential isolation.

So, after the election, they assumed that Nesbitt, Eastwood and Ford (with Alliance coming in on the Justice by-ball) would green-light Executive participation.

It didn’t turn out like that, of course. And for all the talk of “strong government” versus a “weak and divided Opposition” it’s pretty clear that Foster and McGuinness are still a little bit spooked by Opposition.

That’s why they cut back on the number of Opposition days.

That’s why they’ve appointed David Gordon as their “minder”. That’s why the Speaker has intervened to prevent questions and discussion on Nama in the wake of the recent BBC NI Spotlight programme and on the appointment of Gordon.

And that’s why there’s to be a review (by a committee with a DUP/Sinn Fein majority) on the number of PMBs allowed.

It’s a highly flawed approach in the longer term. Opposition has the potential to bring a life to Stormont it has lacked for most of the existence of the state, lending legitimacy to good strong government.

In allowing itself to be seen to stymy even the possibility of a strong alternative voice to the DUP/SF coalition it makes them look weak, even when they aren’t.

  • I think it will take time for opposition to really kick into gear but it is important that the media also play their part in giving the opposition the platform they need to hold the executive to account

  • Nevin

    “In allowing itself to be seen to stymy even the possibility of a strong alternative voice to the DUP/SF coalition it makes them look weak, even when they aren’t.”

    I’d have said the TEO looks arrogant and the opposition looks weak; the electorate obviously prefers those who are strong on the constitutional question, the heavyweights in our tug-of-war. The heavyweights also happen to provide the most extensive constituency support, thanks in part to tax-payer funding.

  • Declan Doyle

    There would be no row over any boat if the DUP could park their underlying anti irish sectarianism.

    As for the rest of the OP. Is it not the job of the ruling party or parties in any govenment to try and make life tricky for the opposition?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    While the media do have a responsibility here, I somehow can’t yet imagine in my mind’s ear the words “what a UUP/SDLP Gov’t will bring will be …” It’s not as if there aren’t many issues (Fresh Start for starters) that UUP/SDLP/APNI couldn’t get their shared gnashers (the few they have left) into. The aim of an opposition is to provide a vision of an alternative government and when even the mirage of that takes some shape the media will follow. They don’t have much to work with yet except sneering from the sidelines – hardening the cynicism of the electorate further??. We haven’t even had any joint statements from Eastwood & Nesbitt yet. We can talk about dysfunctional Gov’t but we seem slow to recognise toothless and dysfunctional opposition with no help or hindrance from the media.

  • chrisjones2

    “The aim of an opposition is to provide a vision of an alternative government ”

    In this context I disagree. The mandatory coalition will not allow that and the aim should be to expose harass where necessary and hold to account continually probing the corruption and hidden deals. That’s why Marlene bought David Gordon – to convert a danger to a weapon. They fear the media and especially Nolan.

    I dont like him personally but he does ask awkard questions

  • chrisjones2

    I am not sure they are that strong Mick. There’s a strong smell of guilty conscience about this Government – they fear exposure

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    “… their underlying anti irish sectarianism”. Surely Naomi’s point was how trivial this is against a lot of less tribal and more urgent concerns. And so the deathless tedium of the action/reaction merrygoround endlessly spins. I guess you’ll be scraping out similar disharmonies with your bow when Rome is burning too … and will you even notice the flames around your feet?
    “Is it not the job of the ruling party or parties in any govenment to try and make life tricky for the opposition?” and vice versa. However, overkill of a healthy democratic move smacks of tyrannical absolutism or even running very, very scared.

  • chrisjones2

    i agree

  • Declan Doyle

    There is no need for a roundabout of any sorts, in fact there is no roundabout. The constant stream of anti irishness that flows from the DUP is pretty much a one way stream with the odd exception, its simply unbelievable when everyone else is working so hard to straighten things out. Its as if they are deliberately trying to create a backlash.

    As for the other, its politics. If the opposition want to be heard, they have to either shout louder or work smarter, neither of which they are doing right now.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    So what are you saying: that mandatory coalition between DUP & SF lasts forever?
    Gordon’s new job won’t involve him asking any questions – he’s a Spin Doctor now – geddit? Never heard of gamekeepers turning poachers? They’re lured to the other side cos they’ve got inside info from their previous incarnation.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    “Its as if they are deliberately trying to create a backlash” Don’t be part of the backlash then. It’s tedious and the DUP’s move only served to make them look silly and petty minded.
    “As for the other” well that’s the topic and the topic’s how using a sledgehammer to swat a fly makes DUP & SF look.

  • Declan Doyle

    Inexperience, fear, decisiveness, conviction….?

  • Gopher

    I do not detect any weakness in Government emanating from fear of opposition at Stormont, I am also of the opinion that SF and DUP are quite happy with all the departments under their bailiwick with the obvious exception of the ministry for medieval affairs (Justice). Northern Ireland’s own Pragmatic Sanction. Nope the threat SF and the DUP perceive is the very real one of the inertia which is systemic at the heart of Government. The appointed of Gordon has nothing to do with opposition it is to present stagnation as perpetual forward motion. SF are farming the street politics out to the Shires, boycotting The Sun and Israel with the SDLP’s support (So much for opposition) in Derry and Strabane to stymie attempts from the left to undermine support and to keep their revolutionary (sic) credentials intact. This farming out will take a large workload out of Gordon’s hands.

    The problem the DUP and SF have is they have no policy. No transport policy, No Agricultural policy, no Health policy, no Education policy. All require tough decisions involving closures, mergers and rationalization to free up capital for actual policy if one was actually capable of it. This is Gordon’s job to convince the general public rather than sitting on them the Executive actually have Jazz hands. Nothing to do with opposition I am very much afraid.

  • Nevin

    Meanwhile in the Glass House [pdf file] where there’s not a fiddle to be heard – or a TEO minister to be seen:

    Malcolm McKibbin advised Board members that he would be giving evidence to the TEO Committee on 5th October on Brexit issues.

  • Kevin Breslin

    To misinterpret Churchill; Stormont Government is a case of “The enemy in front of you the opposition is to the side.”

  • Brian Walker

    It’s really far too early to expect much on whether the UUs and the DUP will function effectively as an opposition. Oppositions usually need government business to scrutinise and this one’s programme has barely begun. The opposition parties also have to get used to the fact that a two party government is not under the same obligation to circulate official papers to them as they were under the multiparty government – however much this was honoured more in the breach than the observance. The pledges to improve the circulation of papers made in Fresh Start apply to government parties only.
    That said, scarce opposition days can be used to set their own agenda. The state of the Brexit debate is depressing. The View discussion was allowed to harp far too long on the litany: “what do you have to fear?” from Carruthers and Poot’s’ reply: “ what do we have to gain”? The Executive’s position on the way ahead for Brexit should be explored, starting with the DUP. If there’s nothing there, the silence will be eloquent. No doubt there will be other panels but this one was particularly ill judged.

  • chrisjones2

    Yeah yeah and in the first instance the boat was named by a SF Minister with a clear eye to inclusivity

  • chrisjones2

    Sadly yes …for the foreseeable future unless the electorate wakes up but the signs are that those who wish change are simply refusing to vote at all

  • murdockp

    the DUP are hypocrites though. they are happy to use words like Shankill and ballymena and other place names which are Irish words.

    the ‘old wood’ road is the correct words DUP should be using not this ‘Shankill’ Gaelic wording.

  • aquifer

    SFDUP built their political careers out of excusing bad behaviour.

    They have no moral authority. If this sounds prissy it is not.

    No criticism they make of the opposition can bite.

    These two sectarian political corpses will just get smellier.

    No-one owes them a decent burial.