Alex Kane has a remarkably detailed outline of how the re-juvenated institutions will work, if and when the two major parties can agree to disagree on the detail:By Alex Kane
It isn’t often that this column gets to break an exclusive story, but today, at the beginning of April, I can reveal hitherto secret details from the Blair/Ahern road map, not due for official release until next week. Reflecting the fact that the contents have the imprimatur of both Prime Ministers, the document is known as the BLAH Proposals. It is believed that both men will arrive in Belfast on Thursday afternoon and then pop out of the enormous cake being presented to mark Ian Paisley’s 80th birthday.
The two governments, acknowledging that Sinn Fein and the DUP have worries about the future shape of the Assembly, have decided that, rather than set anything in concrete, they will have to content themselves by setting-up a shadow, interim, temporary, part-time and utterly vague alternative to the existing arrangement. To get over the problematic logistics of sitting down in the official chamber, MLAs will now meet between 12 and 2.30 in the already heavily subsidised canteen. Since it is the only place in the Assembly where you can guarantee to see them during suspension anyway, it has been decided to turn the literal trough into a political one as well.
In view of continuing concerns about arms and arsenals, it has been agreed not to “trigger” d’Hondt. Instead, it will be replaced with d’Lotto. MLAs will be encouraged to choose a numbered ball between 1 and 108 and, if their number comes up, they will be allowed to be First Minister for the coming week. Every Saturday evening the balls will be placed into a popcorn-making machine and the first one to shoot out will entitle the lucky winner to take the trappings of office. The Prime Ministers believe that such an event, which will be televised live, will generate renewed interest in the political process here. It is hoped that a large audience of potential voters will tune in to watch the weekly balls-up from their MLAs.
In a further dramatic development, the Prime Ministers have decided to tackle the problems caused by the negative aspects and consequences of making MLAs designate themselves as Unionist or Nationalist. From now on they will be allowed to designate as “Cross Community,” “Very Cross Community,” “Barking Mad” or “No Way I’m Sitting With Themuns.” It is hoped that a coalition, composed entirely of the Barking Mad, could be created fairly quickly. NIO insiders insist that such a coalition wouldn’t be all that different to the former Executive Committee.
And, to ensure that real efforts continue to encourage the MLAs to get their act together and work together, a Committee for Reconciliation And Participation (CRAP) will be established. This will sit in permanent session, ensuring that for the lifetime of the next Assembly (expected to last somewhere in the region of nine days) there will be no end of crap at Parliament Buildings.
The tricky matter of accountability has also been resolved. The political parties will now be guaranteed power without responsibility, creating a situation in which the MLAs will be allowed to continue to blame Westminster for everything bad, while taking credit, themselves, for everything positive. To this end, a team of NIO Ministers will be left in place at Stormont Castle, to be summoned by various Assembly committees and told what they are to be blamed for. Since none of the Ministers is accountable to the local electorate, it will do their own careers no harm, and they will be well rewarded in terms of pampering and chauffeur driven cars.
But just in case the local parties are tempted to reject the BLAH Proposals, the Secretary of State is expected to set out a very tight deadline for acceptance. Political leaders will be warned that they have to sign up before Lord Lucan, riding Shergar, wins a Grand National. It is possible, however, that unionists may object to this deadline, believing that the IRA knows where Lucan and Shergar are, and remain capable of bombing Aintree if occasion demands.
In the meantime, and in order to concentrate their minds, MLA pensions will be linked to those of dinner ladies until such times as the Assembly is revived. A further proposal, to enforce compulsory retirement at 65 for MLAs and candidates, is expected to send shock waves through the UUP and SDLP.
In the event of total collapse, it is anticipated that Mr. Blair will opt for Plan B; immediate resignation and passing the buck to Gordon Brown.
First published in the Newsletter on Saturday 1st April 2006