Keeping an eye on things…

STEPHEN Dempster takes a look at the emerging favourite ‘interim measure’ to keep the Assembly ticking over until the talks are restarted in the autumn. But isn’t a powerless consultative forum or scrutiny committee just another talking shop? And who says the Direct Rule Ministers will pay the slightest bit of attention to our whinging anyway?On the plus side, it gives the politicians a chance to actually do something at Stormont. And it means that democrats are not punished for the actions of others.

However, nationalists will fear that if such a temporary forum is established, unionists could become content with the arrangement, and it might become rather permanent.

Dempster reports:

UUP MLA Billy Bell said: “I was a member of the 1982-1986 Assembly which functioned under a direct rule regime. Initially that Assembly had the functions of scrutiny, consultation and deliberation. “Under schedule 2 of the 1982 Northern Ireland Act, however, there were further provisions which allowed for the partial suspension of direct rule if 70 per cent of the Assembly voted for this or if the Secretary of State felt that this would command widespread support.

“Thus the initial function of that Assembly could be expanded at any time to take in additional functions up to and including full Executive powers.

“This seems to me to be a realistic model for the present Assembly in the present situation.

“It would mean that all executive power was retained by the Northern Ireland Office and that the Assembly could scrutinise government legislation and orders in council; help frame and devise legislation; be involved at the initial stages of policy formulation and subsequently oversee the operation of that policy; and exercise an audit function over the Northern Ireland departments.”