What’s the score with ‘revolving ministers’?

One question I have is around the issue of rolling ministers: i.e. members of the same party who are to take a single portfolio by turns. Normal department rules usually instruct senior civil servants not to give new ministers access to key information that had been privy to the previous incumbent. The implication is that each new minister begins his or her own new regime. Does anyone know whether specific protocols have been introduced to ensure smooth transition from one party colleague to the other? If not, is it not likely that this may prove a long term disincentive for such an arrangement?

  • interested

    I think that info etc can be given to a new Minister if the previous incumbent gives their permission.

    I would imagine its just a matter of getting that permission from the party colleague who held the post last and things can transfer reasonably smoothly.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Revolving ministers – why?

  • martin

    Billy – generations of unionists and republicans are turning in their graves … the live ones might as well revolve too.

  • Animus

    I was told that much of the work will be taken forward by Committee; therefore the Ministerial lead is (slightly) less important. Also, any ministerial decision can be overruled in the plenary, if enough people petition.

    Under FOI, there would be difficulties in keeping information from ministers, unless it was particularly sensitive. Having done an FOI request to a Dept, I was able to obtain information about costings for a programme that the dept clearly didn’t want to release, but as it was mentioned numerous times in the assembly’s records, they had to do so. Civil servants will have to change their way of working.

  • heck

    I agree with animus. If these “Normal department rules” were written by civil SERVANTS, then the elected representatives can change them. they are after all civil SERVANTS


    It raises the question, is being a minister about doing a good job for the benifit if the country or raising profiles for the benifit of a party?

  • Animus

    I should have been more clear – as long as Committee membership stays static and much of the work in done within Committee, it is hard to see how the revolving ministerial portfolios would have a significant impact. Obviously the Minister who announces X or Y will take credit, but much of that credit will go to the party itself, not just the individual.

    Mick, what sort of key information might be withheld? I can see how this may have had an impact during direct rule when civil servants briefed Minsters as well as recommending outcomes and courses of action, but it is less clear that this will be the case if the Assembly is working properly.

    Alex – it’s both surely. What’s good for the country will clearly be good for the party. The revolving portfolio thing actually goes some way in combatting the rampant cult of personality attached to politics. I think that’s too far gone in this country to make a difference, but it’s a noble intention.

  • I Wonder

    At least part of the motivation for revolving is the number of extremely ambitious people in the DUP (especially including former UUP folk.) Its a pragmatic way of managing their expectations and of course even if there was a cast iron wall between the advice offered to 1 minister and his/her successor, the 2 ministers could always have a wee chat… Speaking of managing ambition, anyone any idea who is being promised the MEP post? 🙂

  • Philip

    I concur with I wonder: e.g. when the DUP used revolving ministries in the first Assembly to showcase wannabe MPs etc.

  • interested

    This is an issue on some of the stuff surrounding water charges. All of the info cant be obtained, even under FOI – the current Minister can’t even access it because it cant be released by a different administration. If the Direct Rule Minister were to agree to it however it could be released.

    Alex Swan,
    Why cant you promote your party and run the country well at the same time? Or maybe its just Reg who isn’t capable of either let alone both. Three out of the 4 parties are probably doing it. You could look at the Foster vs Gildernew on the Executive for F&ST. Then there’s Ruane vs Ritchie for S Down. Then there’s Robinson vs Empey for E. Belfast….. no, wait, that’s not really a fair contest!

  • jaffa

    Our MLA’s are at a disadvantage in their departments because the increasingly technical nature of the work is beyond their thick heads.

    Peter Robinson was giving out prizes for sustainable architecture (thermal bores, use of existing foundations etc) at the RICS awards yesterday and bragging about his long experience of the construction industry.

    He was an estate agent.

    I suggested a more “does what it says on the tin” nomenclature for our departments on another thread and on the SNP’s consolidation of ministries in the Scots’ Executve. I’m starting to think I wasn’t joking. I suggested;

    Ministry of Ministers
    Ministry of Police & Lawyers
    Ministry of Doctors & Social Workers
    Ministry of Farmers, Engineers and Builders
    Ministry of Tax Collectors & Accountants
    Ministry of Teachers

    I’m thinking now that we need quickly to find a way of bringing forward the professions in the management and direction of these services in Northern Ireland. People like this;


    know more and care more about their business than one tune MLA’s and we need to somehow get more of their thoughts into our political system, and not just as guests on “let’s talk”.

  • jaffa

    I think I might be arguing for a Northern Irish Senate with chartered professions given the power of appointment.

    How would we feel if the IOD, CBI, Institute of Taxation and Accountancy bodies returned a budget for a rethink because the tax legislation was a mess?

  • Animus

    Interested – there is a difference between the direct rule administration and the current set-up, so while that may be a problem now, it doesn’t need to be in future.

  • Philip

    Interesting point Jaffa.

  • delta omega

    Bottom line is that the revolving ministerial posts is being used as a way to keep the DUPers in line, as they can all see a chance of getting their hands on a share of the filthy lucre that was their incentive for selling out the unionist community in the first place

  • Gewurztraminer

    The line is drawn when an administration changes. In the bad old days this meant that a Labour Minister was not privvy to the advice etc. offered to his Tory predecessor and vice versa. This does not apply after a reshuffle which is in effect what revolving ministries will be.

    There’s some confusion here about the role of Committees. Committees are independent of Government and have no role in directing departmental policy. There job is primarily to scrutinise and possibly to influence. Ministerial decisions are not reliant on committee agreement.

  • Animus

    Do you really think Committees have no role in directing departmental policy? Decisions aren’t reliant on committee input but this will be where it will be tested as to whether a ministerial decision is likely to carry or be vetoed through the plenary.

  • I Wonder

    We can expect fireworks where a SF MInister has to face a Committee headed by the DUP or UUP. The DRD saw some of this already this week when Fred Cobain dismissed Conor Murphy’s review of water reform as a “sham.”