Ministerial responsibility, or passing the buck?

Michael Shilliday’s terse description of yesterday’s debate provoked a lot of ire on Slugger yesterday. Not having seen the said debate, I assumed it was about Irish medium education. Turns out, it was about the classroom assistants dispute. The debate seemed an even tempered affair all round until the Minister got up to speak. It’s notable that she refused to give way to any asked for interventions, until the end. Then Sammy Wilson (no doubt putting his Westminster experience to good use) got this in:

Mr S Wilson: It is nice to see that the Minister, who did not have any time to accept interventions from the SDLP or anyone else, was able to spend 30% of her time attacking me about my attitude to, among other matters, academic selection, the working class, the Irish language, equality, and the treatment of women.

Mrs D Kelly: Will the Member give way?

Mr S Wilson: No; I only have five minutes. I will not give way, nor will I attack the Member, so she need not worry.

However, he went on hint that the minister was happy to enjoin battle on anything but the subject in hand:

The Minister says that she wants to deal seriously with this issue, yet she spends 30% of her speech addressing her comments to another Member on subjects that are not being discussed. If I were as paranoid as Mr Butler, I would think that she were carrying out a witch hunt. However, I am not paranoid. I am quite happy for her to make those sorts of comments. That is what we expect to happen here. However, I will not take lectures from the Minister that Members on this side of the House are not concerned, or are expressing only pseudoconcern, about the matter.

Mr McCrea, a Member for Lagan Valley, tabled the motion because, in spite of the promise that the Minister made on 19 June — which was over three months ago — when she thought that the matter was urgent, it has dragged on and has still not been resolved. She can point the finger at the Committee for Education and the Assembly and ask what they have done.

We are not the employers. We are not even the paymasters. The Minister is the Minister — she is the one who is responsible. We have no role in the negotiations.

So where did the subject of Irish language education come from? Well, from Mr Wilson of course. He drew attention to the fact that the Minister had made no provision in her departmental budgets for an increased offer to the Unions:

Since 19 June, on something that we were told was urgent, she has had two meetings, one with each side. She has clearly not given the matter any priority in her financial dealings. As far as I know, the £30 million that was available has not been upped. In the meantime — true to form, I am going to mention it — she has found plenty of money to hand out for her favourite project, the promotion of the Irish language. Mainstream education and the concerns of youngsters with special needs across Northern Ireland, and of those who deal with them, take second place in this Minister’s priorities behind the promotion of her own political ideology and the things that she wants to promote.

So, the question is: has Minister Ruane backed herself into a corner? If not, and she wants to move to resolve the dispute with the Unions (and her party spokesman) what is going to cut from her provisional budget to pay for a renewed offer?

Adds: Basil McCrea:

“There were only a couple of points that came up in the debate, because she spent eight minutes attacking everyone else, about everything else, rather than talking about the issue. The Minister was asked a number of specific questions, and she did not answer any of them. That is not the way to go forward in this Assembly. For the Minister to fall out with just about everyone in the Assembly, including the entire Education Committee save Mr Butler, is not a clever, winning strategy.”

MOst interesting is the final amendment from Jeffrey Donaldson was passed without a vote:

“, by convening an urgent meeting of the Department, employers and Trade Union side in the dispute, with an agenda to include (a) retention of the Special Needs Allowance; (b) retention of the 32.5 hourly pay divisor; (c) NVQ III and the job evaluation exercise; and (d) adequate pay protection arrangements, in order to prevent disruption to children’s education.” — [Mr Donaldson.]


  • Fraggle

    “Michael Shilliday’s terse description of yesterday’s debate provoked a lot of ire on Slugger yesterday. Not having seen the said debate, I assumed it was about Irish medium education. Turns out, it was about the classroom assistants dispute. ”

    Says it all about the quality of Michael’s blogging, consistently low. He threw out a quote, not only out of any context and the only link provided was one he admitted not to be able to use himself. I know you must keep him around for balance but there must be a more competent UUP blogger available.

  • nmc

    Well put Fraggle. A quote from that post:

    Apparently opposition to the political use of the Irish language in Education is just “bias and prejudice”.

    The word political caught my eye, obviously not Ruane’s sentiment.

  • Mick Fealty

    I have to say that I got that impression as much from the thread as from the lack of explanation in the original.

    In fact, it looks like just one of several diversionary tactics on the part of the Minister.

  • Fraggle

    The diversion seems to have been provided by Mr S Wilson Mick.

  • Mick Fealty

    Have you read what he said Frag, or just my linking text?

  • But the Irish Language is the most important issue in the world ever! I’d venture to suggest that ALL of the minister’s time needs to be spent advancing Irish Language education in order that the terrible wrongs suffered by its speakers can be addressed.

  • Fraggle

    point taken 🙁

  • me

    C Ruaine is always like that she says a lot but says nothing. It’s time to sort this out. As a parent of a learning disabled child, I must say we NEED and should value classroom assistants for what they do. Some of these children need to be toileted, helped to eat, help to change, help to pack their schoolbags at the end of the day. These people are invaluable. They are going to be asked to work more hours for less money. Ruaine is a nonsense, at the meeting last night the board brought nothing. It’s time to find the money to pay the classroom assistants. Take it from the UDA, to hell and high water with Irish language, these children and workers need that money andit is scandalous tht money can be found for everything except special need.s

    ruaine is a disgrace.!

  • no irish here

    me – she might even be called ruane

  • Oilibhear Chromaill

    I think special needs education deserves a great deal more resources than it’s getting and if I genuinely believed that expenditure on Irish medium education was the cause of those necessary resources being witheld, then I would campaign against Irish medium education getting the resources being deprived the special needs sector.

    But I don’t believe that’s the case. Unionists are using special needs education like they use all convenient excuses to deny the Irish language sector its resources. According to the Department of Education’s own figures, children in Irish Medium Education get less than children in capitation grants than children in the Controlled, Maintained or Integrated sectors. The overall cost of Irish medium education last year was £12m – but that would be only marginally less if the children were being taught in other sectors. They’re the facts. What you hear from Sammy Wilson, the MLA with the distinction for terming Irish a ‘leprechaun language’ or Nelson McCausland, the only language activist in Europe who is against giving necessary resources for language development, is pure anti Irish prejudice dressed up in other excuses.

  • brendan,belfast

    what did the Minister mean when she said yesterday she was going to “personally intervene” – that she was merely going to call for talks? what about wielding some political power, moving money around her own Department or drawing down emergency Executive Programme Funds and giving classroom assistants what they actually deserve. Does anyone believe they dont deserve the extra cash?

    Catriona is a very disappointing Minister so far. no difference between her approach to this matter than any of the direct rule predecessors.

  • a navvy writes

    7,000 poor paid members of our working people will be on the streets tomorrow because of a 12-year delay in dealing with their claim for a decent living wage.
    They’ve been told they must take a wage cut in this backdating proposal!
    Ask yourself – where will you be when the picket lines are put in place and the major demo in Belfast is held?
    The majority of bloggers will be going on about the national anthems, colour of flags, street signs, emblems, language, religious parephenalia and a whole list of whataboutery from the safey of their sofas.
    Get a grip – real politics is about the class war – join in – it may improve your kids education and their choice of lifestyles – unless of course you’re happy for them to be obese chavs, spides and bigots!
    I know where I’ll be.
    Writers Square, 12.30, march to Customs House at 1pm.
    Go on – you know it’s right.

  • Rory

    Thank God for Oilibhear Chromaill and A Navvy Writes cutting through all the red-herring bullshit on this debate and getting down to the reality.

    The only ones posing assistance for Irish language education in counterpoint to classroom assistants’ pay and conditions are those who are reactionary on the former and formerly ever reactionary on the latter, progress on workers’ pay and conditions.

    Progressives from all quarters will support the classroom assistants’ demands and will also champion support and funding for Irish language schools. Philistines and profiteers will not. Such is the way of the world – or this little part of it at least.

  • Turgon

    One has to admit that Ruane’s strategy of deliberately confusing the issue of Irish medium education, women, grammar schools and the working class with classroom assistants pay has produced quite sucessful results if Slugger is anything to go by.

    A quick and incisive use of personal MOPEry, though I suppose it is Most Oppressed Minister Ever.

    It does seem that Ruane has failed to make adequate attempts to sort this out. It is after all her job despite her attempts at blame shifting.

    It is also worth noting that these employees are hardly the most militant bunch and their treatment has been very shoddy.

    My son will be affected by his classroom assistant’s strike (if she personally does strike tomorrow) and I support her striking. I will not be there at the demonstration as sadly I have to work.

    I am sorry but despite my support for the classroom assistants I do not think I meet Rory and co’s definition of a progressive (can I be a progressive Prodiban?)

  • GavBelfast

    Even by the modest standards of our home-grown mini-ministers, I thought Ruane came across as thoroughly unimpressive on the radio today (didn’t see TV news).

    Pleasant initial greetings and platitudes-a-plenty do not an effective minister make.

  • Mick Fealty

    The question is surely: does Minister Ruane support them to make provision for them in her budget?

  • Pounder

    Seems generally that Ms Ruane is ill equiped to deal with the high profile assignment. I wonder if someone in her party hung her out to dry deliberately or if the Sinners like the rest of the executive are unsuited to actually governing a country.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    With the strike happening tomorrow, and the budget not far off, you’d have thought that would be in the open by now.


    I don’t believe Ruane has actually met either side in the dispute yet, although she says she’s not supposed to and that she is there to merely facilitate and encourage. Earlier, she admitted she was even unaware of correspondence from her Dept being sent out setting out terms for negotiation. However, it seems that there is a chance that the second round of strikes can be averted.

    The fact that the first strike starts tomorrow is still a massive failure for a Minister that feels so much sympathy for the strikers…

  • Chris Donnelly


    Hardly a massive failure. The Minister should not be surprised that the Classroom Assistants and their Unions aren’t willing to back down on action until resolution of the matter, particularly given the length of time taken to resolve the dispute.

    No, Catriona has done well to get the Boards and Unions to the stage where, tonight, it appears there is light at the end of the tunnel with regard to a resolution of this matter.

    That the DUPers should avail of this opportunity in the Assembly to have another go at Catriona is unsurprising. Having faced the heat over the decidedly dodgy antics of their Ministers in relation to our finest tourist attraction, an opportunity to refocus attentions elsewhere would hardly go amiss.

    This is an important test for Catriona and I wish her well in dealing with it.

  • Rory

    “can I be a progressive Prodiban?”

    There is nothing whatsoever to stop that, Turgon, other than irrational fear of progress or a vested interest in impeding it. I can’t imagine that you suffer from either of these defects of character.

  • patrique

    Remember we live in the only European country where a strike brought down the Government. And that was a strike about nothing.

    Tomorrow is the first strike in the new executive. Let’s get thousands and thousands on the March. Let our politicians know the reality of real politics.

  • DK

    I saw some strikers on the Springfield Road (I think) this morning, getting cars to beep for them

    I wonder if any Irish language classroom assistants were on strike?