Did Ritchie sell the DUP, UUP and Sinn Fein a dummy?

My piece on the Ritchie statement is now up on Comment is Free. In the meantime though Slugger has learned that none of the other parties in the Executive were expecting Ms Ritchie to make the announcement she made, which may go some of the way to explain the rather colourful point of order made in the chamber, which in turn led to what turned out to be a forty minute hiatus. It’s also been pointed out by one Stormont insider that the weirdly inappropriate big gun attack from Sinn Fein seems to have been predicated on the assumption that she was going to grant the money, despite the fact at least public figure inside the party had been actively encouraging her to give the money to the UDA.Ms Ní Chuilín: “Does she agree that, as someone who is in the public eye, she, as Minister for Social Development, and her Department funded the UDA?”

John O’Dowd: “…if the UDA does the decent thing and puts its guns beyond use, stops intimidating the loyalist communities and moves into a peaceful mode, regardless of all that is she prepared to fund such an organisation?”

Fra McCann: “Why did the Minister go against her Department’s policy of targeting social need and abject poverty, by funding one community over the other, when social need stretches across the community?”

Martina Anderson: “I remain concerned, as do other Members in the Chamber, that the Minister’s statement clearly indicates that it has been left open for the UDA to receive funding should it decommission.”

And this exchange is worth quoting more fully, to put the questions above in some context:

Mr McLaughlin: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Will the Minister agree that the kernel of this debacle is the initiative, taken by the direct rule Ministers, to direct funding towards the UDA, and which she has continued? Will she also agree that lessons should be drawn from this unfortunate experience? If the policy of targeting social need on an objective basis were the only criterion, the UDA would never have been granted money, either in the past, the present or the future.

Ms Ritchie: I thank Mr McLaughlin for his question.

I do not disagree with the issues that he raised about the direct rule Administration. It is unfortunate that many Ministers inherited policies that were not rightly placed or correctly implemented by that Administration. Many Members in this House, including members of his own party, and members of his party in the Executive, have been silent on these issues over the last number of months. I hope that there will be support for proper standards in Government and for tackling deprivation, disadvantage and poverty. The purpose of the Department for Social Development is to build communities through tackling deprivation, disadvantage and poverty, irrespective of where they lie.

The very bluntness of the attack suggests someone briefed the party’s MLAs for one decision, and they were barely able to shift their scripted contributions when the Minister unexpectedly stuck to a line she had been flagging for months.

Brian Feeney remarked on the early exchanges in the Assembly that “plodding through a script shows you’re not thinking”. The effect is even worse when a whole team lets rip with all its rhetorical fire power when the ‘target’ is, figuratively speaking, standing right behind them.

In which case who sold whom the dummy? If not Ritchie, whose pronouncements on this issue at least have the virtue of scrupulous consistency, then who?

, ,

  • Mick-

    “The very bluntness of the attack suggests someone briefed the party’s MLAs for one decision, and they were barely able to shift their scripted contributions when the Minister unexpectedly stuck to a line she had been flagging for months.”

    It was quite bizarre to observe the Sinn Féin benches yesterday. When Margaret came out with her statement, one could have almost heard the SF MLAs uttering: “Does not compute. Does not compute.” Their ‘line’ of questioning was completely irrelevant and despite the presence of senior figures such as McGuinness and others, there seemed to be no one there to take the lead and enable SF to adapt to the realities of the situation as it unfolded. Instead they got all hot and flustered that their question was getting nowhere, particularly when large sections of the chamber descended into laughter at their ineptitude.

  • Also, Robinson made his ‘Point of Order’ as an ordinary member, rather than in his role as an Executive member. Surely as an ordinary member, he wouldn’t have been privy to the legal information upon which the Minister based her decision. If he received such information in his role as Finance Minister, then surely he should have asked any question pertaining to that information wearing his ministerial hat.

  • interested

    El Mat,
    If I heard correctly there was no question asked about what ‘role’ he made the point of order in.

    The speaker ruled that he asked the Minister a question as an ordinary member of the House and not as a Minister.

    Also – you seem surprised at the “Does not compute” reaction of the Shinners. Its hardly surprising – they do the same thing all the time. Its the same situation whenever they are asked to make a decision on something when they haven’t been prepared for it. They immediately go into meltdown and demand a chance to run off and ask someone higher up the ladder what to do.

  • saiorse

    Slightly off the point, but, it was very interesting to note yesterday that Martin McGuinness chose to sit on the BACK bench. Never seen him (or any other first minister) do that before. Obviously the statement was too important for him not to be present but trying to hide at the back?! And another thing, there was a pretty big turn out generally so I can’t be certain but I’m quite sure that the Ministers Ruane, Murphy and Gildernew were (conspicuously) absent.

  • USA

    SDLP – Shutting Down Loyalist Paramilitaries.

  • dewi

    Perhaps the NIO Mick.

  • Matalan

    Sammy Duddy one of the loyalist CTI employees has died within the last two hours.

  • Ruane was there, but said nothing.

  • interested

    Just heard Robinson on Radio Ulster

    I’ve seen all the legal advice”

    It would seem that Margaret might have been overstepping her remit. It might be great to be seen to be tough on the UDA, but surely wouldn’t it be better to actually work within the law……

  • Interested-

    Acting as judge, jury and executioner now, eh?

  • Nevin

    “In the meantime though Slugger has learned that none of the other parties in the Executive were expecting Ms Ritchie to make the announcement she made,”

    Tele front page, “I met Gregory at 2.10pm and I made my statement at 2.40pm. I told him I had gained legal advice to make the statement and I had gained his support for the decision I was about to make. ..” [Margaret Ritchie] told the Nolan show.

  • slug

    The questions from Sinn Féin members would have been remarkably thick even had they not had 40 minutes of resess to rethink them. The fact they had 40 minutes and STILL asked these questions is staggeringly poor.

  • Sean Og

    The SF MLAs behaviour certainly was bizarre yesterday. Headless chickens come to mind.

    It seems clear now that they where completely thrown by what the minister for DSD actually said and couldn’t understand what they were hearing. They then proceeded to read out prepared questions that made no sense. Even after the 40 minute resess. Astonishing!

    I could understand one fool doing this, but 3 or 4 of them is hard to believe!

    What MR had done is morally right but it may not be procedurally right and that’s where she may fall foul of the courts.
    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a court hearing a JR recommends that she consult on this decision before implementing it.

  • Mick Fealty

    It certainly would ‘interested’. It remains open to the Minister’s many critics to test her decision via judicial review. So far though, it is not clear on what grounds her decision might judged illegal.

    What is bizarre is the degree to which her colleagues seem annoyed that she didn’t change her mind in order to suit their own plans.

    Robinson clear has concerns for how to maintain what remains of ‘cabinet responsibility’. But even that looks bizarre when both his party and Sinn Fein have been breaching cabinet confidentiality when it has suited their ‘narrow political’ interests to do so.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Slug: “The questions from Sinn Féin members would have been remarkably thick even had they not had 40 minutes of resess to rethink them. The fact they had 40 minutes and STILL asked these questions is staggeringly poor. ”

    Makes a body wonder about their actual ability and fitness as representatives of the electorate, doesn’t it… or would if the rest of the clowns were markedly better.

    Sean Og: “I could understand one fool doing this, but 3 or 4 of them is hard to believe! ”

    Any group of people is only as bright as the dumbest person in the group… although I’m suprised that none of the representatives had the initiative to pick up the thread, esp. once the laughter had started.

    Sean Og: “What MR had done is morally right but it may not be procedurally right and that’s where she may fall foul of the courts. ”

    Aye, but which mistake do you think does her more credit, Slug, being morally right in front of the eyes of the populace or legally right before a judge and collection of bureaucrats?

    Sean Og: “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a court hearing a JR recommends that she consult on this decision before implementing it. ”

    It is still a win, if only because it makes the rest of the groundhogs and lemmings stand up and be counted as for or ag’in paramilitary thugs. The alacrity with which the DUP ran to provide political cover for those Unrepentant Degenerate Algoids was embaressing.

  • Nevin

    Ritchie’s been in the SDLP machine a long time. Does anyone know if she ever challenged Hume’s assertion that decommissioning was a ‘dangerous distraction‘.

  • spiritof07

    SF really screwed up. Big O’Dowd was dispatched to ‘clarify’ the matter on radio this morning. bringing all his tactical and political nous to bear he claimed that SF supported MR. didn’t seem that way yesterday.

    over the last 60 days:
    SF Ministers offered ‘no comment’
    Alex Maskey condemned her for not stopping money immediately
    Jim Gibney said she shouldn’t stop it at all
    Anderson condemned her for stopping it
    O’Down ‘supports’ her.

    I remember a SF election poster which read – “the voice of principled leadership” mmmm, the good old days!

  • Dread Cthulhu

    spiritof07: “SF really screwed up. Big O’Dowd was dispatched to ‘clarify’ the matter on radio this morning. bringing all his tactical and political nous to bear he claimed that SF supported MR. ”

    Someone finally put a finger to the wind, eh?

    spiritof07: “over the last 60 days:
    SF Ministers offered ‘no comment’
    Alex Maskey condemned her for not stopping money immediately
    Jim Gibney said she shouldn’t stop it at all
    Anderson condemned her for stopping it
    O’Down ‘supports’ her.”

    Usually the phrase “spinning like a roulette wheel” (or weather vane, for those of you less inclined to games of chance) has less literal implications…

    Ironically, all they really had to do for the last sixty days is furrow their brow, knuckle their foreheads and state the obvious two things — that Ritchie had a definite point and perspective that needed addressing and, two, taht it might not be as simple as shutting off the money-spigot. Maybe thrown a sop in about wanting to make sure that the monies, if withdrawn, still went to Loyalist neighborhoods, albeit through channels not tainted by the UDA. That was all… and still they munged it up.

  • Sean

    And this is an obvious repulicaqn left leaning board that is over run by the Sinn Fein Blogging committee

  • New Yorker

    From a distance it looks like the DUP wants to support their terrorists and thugs from a brave and principled Minister. Taking a legal action against the minister would only make them look more like terrorist protectors. That game is over.