SDLP: Finance Minister has lost the run of himself…

There’s a lot of detail still to come out from yesterday’s extraordinary events. Not least, there are serious questions surrounding the personal conduct of a very senior civil servant in Parliament Buildings just before the Minister for Social Development made her statement to the Assembly. Slugger understands her party is looking for something like full disclosure of all the events surrounding this matter in what is likely to be a very tense Executive meeting tomorrow. And Mark Durkan is clearly not happy.From Mark Durkan

“We had hoped that following the extraordinary scenes in the Assembly yesterday, Mr Robinson might have taken the time to reflect on his approach and pull back from his attacks on DSD Minister Margaret Ritchie. Instead, in an unprecedented statement this evening he has sought to rewrite events of recent weeks. He is now attempting to treat tomorrow’s Executive meeting as a kangaroo court against a Minister who has taken a good decision, on good grounds, in good conscience and in accordance with her Pledge of Office.

“One is entitled to wonder whether we are watching him lose the run of himself or something more sinister, but it is nonetheless clear that Minister Robinson is overreaching his responsibilities. He thinks he runs the Executive, he’s trying to run the Civil Service and yesterday he sought to dictate to the Speaker.

“Mr Robinson’s ambition is well known, but the Prime Minister Peter act cannot be allowed to continue. His message to Margaret Ritchie is ‘don’t do what I do, do what I say”. That makes him a hypocrite and a bully. We await with interest to see whether Margaret Ritchie is the only Minister prepared to challenge his power grab.

“The events of recent days raise a number of serious political, procedural and constitutional questions. While others seek to create smokescreens and divert attention from these questions, the SDLP remains focussed and will be seeking answers in the days to come.”

  • Pete Baker

    Hmm..

    That’s apparently in response to the comments noted here

    Although there Peter Robinson doesn’t seem to refer to future decisions.. rather past decisions..

  • joeCanuck

    Has Robinson shot himself in the foot? Or prepared a noose for his own neck?
    Regardless, his inopportune attack on a fellow Minister is undoubtedly an “own goal”.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Mick

    Quite interested in the identity of the senior civil servant. No doubt the details of his alleged misdemeanour will become clear in the near future….

  • DC

    Lost the run of himself, more like he needs to get over himself and show some respect and decorum in the Assembly at certain times.

    His behaviour was unreasonable and for what? Holding firm in the face of UDA criminality.

    Mark Devenport in his blog regarding the matter runs with a heading: ‘Ultra Vires’ which means “beyond the power”.

    “That’s how Peter Robinson alleged Margaret Ritchie acted when she cut the UDA- linked Conflict Transformation Initiative” says Devenport.

    But we must only think back to Peter Robinson’s antics in the House of Commons re Sheridan Group and the alleged financial impropriety.

    Just another negative unionist moment, last week it was McNarry this week Robinson, previously Iris Robinson griped about how integrated education fed off sectarianism. On and on, rumble rumble, people really musn’t be happy with their lives, we all must wonder.

    Well said Mark Durkan reference the behaviour of the finance minister.

  • joeCanuck

    I think that few people would deny that prior to suspension of devolution in 1972(?), the Senior Civil Service was just another arm of the Unionist Party.
    Perhaps old habits really do die hard.

  • interested

    Nice of Mark to leap to Margaret’s defense – I suppose its not surprising given that he was whispering to her telling her what to say in the Assembly chamber yesterday…..

    It is of course possible that Robinson is correct…… Mind you, its much easier for the SDLP to accuse Peter Robinson of bullying than actually discuss the allegations he makes about her legal back-up, or lack of.

    Surely its not bullying for a Minister to be concerned if another one has allegedly acted unlawfully.

  • who

    I wonder who the civil servant is behaving badly…well I wonder who this particular one is?

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    I thought that part of the deal to get he DUP into government was the restriction of the powers of ministers to make unilateral decisions?

  • interested

    Sammy
    Hence Robinson’s point about the Statutory basis of the Ministerial Code…..

  • joeCanuck

    We’ll see Sammy.
    Minister Ritchie isn’t the only one to apparently make a “controversial” decision alone.
    There are very interesting times ahead.

  • DC

    Interested – if Peter Robinson is correct what’s the worst that can happen: judicial review? court proceedings?

    But is there not a judicial review on the way reference the whole Sheridan debacle? Robinson’s doing.

    Highly likely public opinion will protect Ritchie against any litigation concerns.

    So what’s the problem? Robinson had a conviction that something was awry with the then government bound contract with Sheridan developers.

    Minister Ritchie showed similar conviction re the UDA and the current violent climate coupled with no movement on decommissioning. Ergo no money.

  • Mick Fealty

    ‘interested’,

    It struck me as being more ad hominem than it needed to be (perhaps he should spend more time on Slugger to learn about the kind of ‘self-undoing’ that playing-the-man strategies often herald).

    Nevertheless, it should be understood that Ritchie has undoubtedly been enduring negative side briefing from all sides (not to mention a singular death threat) coupled with a ‘no visible means of support’ strategy from her colleagues within the Executive.

    “Surely its not bullying for a Minister to be concerned if another one has allegedly acted unlawfully.”

    This is precisely why *full* disclosure is important to the wider understanding of exactly what went on in this case. We should also be told exactly what the legal vulnerability amounts to.

    My understanding is that she took independent legal advice in response to official advice that simply counselled ‘proceed with caution’.

  • qubol

    There needs to be an investigation into links between political parties and the civil service. The DUP in particular are notorious for receiving leaked information whether it be from the Police, Civil Service or someone else. Do Civil servants have to declare links or affiliations like happens with the judiciary or police?

    Its at the stage were someone needs to be made an example of if they have been found to have improperly passed on information.

  • I wonder if the civil servants proffering advice to Margaret are the same brains who advised the Direct Rulers to launch this joke of a scheme in the first place. Thankfully, unlike her Whitehall predecessors, Minister Ritchie has been blessed with morals and backbone.

  • Mick Fealty

    This goes much wider than the DUP. Given the behaviour of both big parties in the Assembly yesterday (where, btw, senior civil servants have no call to be) there are very serious questions hanging over who briefed both ‘big beasts’. The DUP have important questions to answer, but those pre-fabed SF questions are indicative of substantive sub rosa briefings in advance of the session..

  • DC

    El Mat

    Morals and backbone aren’t really at the core here.

    Her ministry is for social development.

    Could she really have stood over this funding in the current climate?

    At the weekends certain pockets of Carrickfergus socially disintegrate as a result of all this carrot dangling.

    DSD sponsored social disintegration. It was a no-brainer. If she had went ahead then it would have left her open to dereliction of duty, surely.

    She would look a complete fool. When your a secretary of state you can take risks with no repercussions but for Ritchie this undemocratic manoeuvre come concession-carrot was always going to be too much too soon within a representative democracy with many obvious personal and political repercussions.

  • qubol

    Mick: “but those pre-fabed SF questions are indicative of substantive sub rosa briefings”
    Your probably right – whatever their link, nationalist, unionist, religious etc the civil service need to understand this cannot go on. Maybe I’m being naive here but this sort of thing shouldn’t happen in a democracy. It has to stop

  • URQUHART

    I like the ‘Prime Minister Peter’ stuff.

    If the allegation that a senior civil servant was behaving inappropriately are correct, there’s going to be trouble ahead. The whole strategy, bought into by SF / DUP / NICS appears to have been a gamble that Ritchie would cave in. When she didn’t, I think a lot of fires have been lit that they’ll struggle to put out.

    On who the senior civil servant is, I wonder if a close reading of the hansard account of the statement and questions might shed any light?

  • I Wonder

    The Head of the CS was mentioned by reporters at the time of her statement as having “concerns”?

  • URQUHART

    ***U-TURN NUMBER ONE***

    News headlines have just said that Sinn Fein sources ‘are now letting it be known’ that they will be supporting Margaret Ritchie at today’s executive meeting.

    Today is going to be interesting.

  • URQUHART

    I Wonder: “The Head of the CS was mentioned by reporters at the time of her statement as having “concerns”?

    I noticed that at the time and wondered. The Speaker mentioned that one too.

  • Pounder

    Never let it be said that the shinners couldn’t see which way the wind was blowing and jump accordingly. Ain’t politics wonderful.

  • The Dubliner

    Margaret Ritchie is in danger of becoming a martyr who was crucified for doing the right thing among those whose cartel depends on being stooges who profit from doing the wrong thing. She represents the kind of principled politicians that the public yearn to vote for in the golden moments when they glimpse a horizon beyond their own sectarianism and the kind of politicians that that dismal restriction compels them to actually vote for.

    In the south, we have the office of President being brought into disrepute by its incumbent socialising with murderers and organised criminals, inviting them to Áras an Uachtaráin, legitimising criminality, and with her husband playing golf with a convicted extortionist. Instead of impeaching for this degenerate behaviour, we are informed that it is progressive and in society’s best interests rather than being destructive to society’s best interests. Alas, the madness of bringing sociopathic gangsters into the political process, instead of flinging them into the state’s prisons, has infected the south, too.

  • spiritof07

    No wonder Hamilton has concerns: ritchie is within her rights to accuse him of harrassment.

  • BOM

    Disgraceful that the Shinners didnt back the Minister from the word go.

    Seems they have just had a day or two of listening to the Nationalist people support her and then got cold feet about going up against them and losing support. Just goes to show how they do not have a clue what they are doing and dont have the integrity that Ms Ricthie has shown over this past few days and months.

    Nationalist voters take note!

  • Briso


    Posted by It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it on Oct 17, 2007 @ 11:54 PM
    I thought that part of the deal to get he DUP into government was the restriction of the powers of ministers to make unilateral decisions?

    Here’s the story Sammy McN.

    1. Executive formed.
    2. McGuinness abolishes the eleven plus.
    3. Red-faced unionists in government and civil service lay an egg.
    4. De Brun gives maternity services to the Taig hospital.
    5. Puce-faced unionists shite a rock.
    6. Executive brought down by unionists.
    7. DUP, UUP and Alliance unite to promote ‘collective responsibility’, ‘joined-up government’, ‘voluntary coalition’ etc. Translation: No more Nationalists deciding things we don’t like.
    8. St Andrew’s agreement either A) prevents this sort of thing or B) doesn’t.
    9. Richie tells UDA to get lost.
    10. Purple-faced unionists vomit a lake.
    If A)
    A1. Robinson batters Ritchie.
    A2. Ritchie resigns.
    A3. SDLP pull out.
    A4. SF bend over and carry on or executive collapses.
    A5. If SF carry on, executive paralysis due to no party being able to implement any part of their manifesto not exactly in agreement with their deadliest enemy. Executive collapses. FF wipe out SF.
    A6. Unionist civil service runs NI.

    If B)

    B1. Ministers execute their policies without veto.
    B2. Larger parties get more of their policies implemented.
    B3. SF and SDLP make decisions on their own.
    B4. Voters can judge who is most succesful in their briefs and vote accordingly.
    B5. Unionists bring down executive.
    B6. Unionist civil service runs NI.

    OK?

  • lib2016

    ‘Unionist civil service runs NI.’

    Not anymore! Those days are disappearing forever with the rise of all those Catholic wimmen with their honours degrees. They already control the entry grades right up to middle management and are in the process of taking over senior management which they will have successfully accomplished before the end of this decade.

    It has all been pointed out for years by the Equality Commission which has been worried quite rightly by the onesided nature of recruitment. Unfortunately short of paying junior civil servants a decent wage, no-one has been able to suggest a remedy. The same takeover by female employees with better qualifications has already happened in elementary schools so it isn’t just a NI nor even a sectarian problem.

  • Sean

    Where’s CTN and his cheerleading the DUP as the moral compass of the world and absolute power of the DUPers because they are the majority in Storomont

  • lib2016

    As for those who criticise Sinn Fein for being opportunists – just why did you think we voted for them?

    They jumped the wrong way, realised their mistake, and then corrected it. Seems perfectly valid to me.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    lib2016: “They jumped the wrong way, realised their mistake, and then corrected it. Seems perfectly valid to me.”

    Do you mean other than the very public display of fecklessness which was the hallmark of their performance, even given the better part of an hour to gather their wits and realize their canned questions no longer were applicable to matters at hand?

  • nineteensixtyseven

    lib2016, just remember that they jump the right way to protect their own interests and not yours. They have no moral or ethical backbone whatsoever.

  • lib2016

    “They have no moral or ethical backbone whatsoever”

    I supported the SDLP throughout the Troubles and enjoyed a great deal of selfsatisfaction over doing so, but we all have to grow up sometime. The DUP claim to have ‘God on their side’ but I prefer having history on mine.

    I don’t support any political party blindly but the SDLP moved away from ordinary people, not them from it. The SDLP satisfy a middleclass middle-aged constituency who are rather too happy with the status quo and that’s fine if that’s what you want but Sinn Fein is more hungry for power and the Northern Nats have waited long enough.

  • URQUHART

    lib2016: “Sinn Fein is more hungry for power and the Northern Nats have waited long enough”

    And as long as there are gullible eejits out there who buy their lines, SF are well placed to grow fat at the Stormont trough.

    But ask yourself this – is SF’s performance on the UDA funding and killing of the Irish Language Act what ‘Nothern nats’ have been waiting so long for?

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Urquhart: “But ask yourself this – is SF’s performance on the UDA funding and killing of the Irish Language Act what ‘Nothern nats’ have been waiting so long for? ”

    Now don’t try to confuse ‘im with silly things like facts — he’s on a roll…

    Seriously, lib2160 would be a better monniker if this farce is the best that SF can do.

  • lib2016

    The UUP, the OO and the RUC have been destroyed as centres of real power. The DUP modernisers are busy destroying their credibility over the Irish Language Act, and rumours are flying over who has bought land recently along the North-South canal link which will emerge after the Causeway connection has been sucked dry.

    Yeah, no wonder Sinn Fein is worried.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    lib2016: “The UUP, the OO and the RUC have been destroyed as centres of real power. The DUP modernisers are busy destroying their credibility over the Irish Language Act, and rumours are flying over who has bought land recently along the North-South canal link which will emerge after the Causeway connection has been sucked dry.

    Yeah, no wonder Sinn Fein is worried. ”

    That is dead which can immortally lie, and e’en in strange aeons, even death may die…

    With apologies to Abd-al-Hazred, I have to say, lib2016, your analysis is precisely what is wrong with SF today. There is no depth or consideration beyond the immediate, just a lot of short term, wall-eyed thinking. You assume everything will fall your way and nothing can go wrong… go wrong… go wrong…

    The three entities you cite are not yet dead — the RUC was reincarnated as the PSNI, the UUP shamble on like some undead revenant and the OO, whilst on life support, are a bit like the fella on the cart in the Monty Python sketch.

    The DUP scuppering the Irish Language Act is not going to hurt them with their own voters much, if at all. Running to provide cover fire for the UDA likely did more harm than that, but that, given SF’s clumsy questions and lack of mental agility, was an opportunity lost, since SF was unable to adjust to the change in the script… obviously, candidates are chosen on the basis of political reliability and not intellect.

    As for the Canal, that one is almost too easy. First, any culprits, if any exist, can be readily drummed out of the party with a cheerful smile and a dusting of the hands. Hell, properly finessed, it could come to be an advantage. Secondly, once the press gets the taste of political blood in the water, do you imagine they’ll stop with just one instance and one party? I’m fairly certain there are a number of folks in all the political parties who would look foolish if their lives were turned upside-down and shaken real hard… all sorts of unfortunate details could fall out.

    Be careful what you wish for, lib2016. Short-term thinking rarely yields long-term benefit.

  • Great thread folks!

    I think that few people would deny that prior to suspension of devolution in 1972(?), the Senior Civil Service was just another arm of the Unionist Party.

    I think I probably would deny that by 1972 the Civil Service was just another arm of the Unionist Party; there was quite a generation change in the ‘60s. The Senior Civil Service was no longer entirely Protestant, even less entirely Unionist, and even those with Unionist sympathies were more cognisant of their duty of impartiality.

    I must say that my initial reaction on Tuesday was to say more or less what you did, Joe. Now the anger has subsided and the old Whitehall analysis kicked in, I’m now less sure it was simply a case of Unionist civil servants insubordinating a Nationalist Minister. Remember, the Head of the NI Civil Service is also the Perm Sec of the NIO, which is a massive conflict of interest. The Perm Sec of DSD is personally involved with CTI and the Protestant Working-Class Task Force.

    Therefore I’m less convinced it was Senior Civil Servants attacking Margaret for being a Fenian, but attacking Margaret for actually taking decisions, and taking them in a way that threatened their personal hobby horses. Either way it was appalling behaviour that needs to be thoroughly investigated; Ministers make decisions and civil servants implement them. In Whitehall, this wouldn’t even be a question; at Stormont, 35 years of direct rule convinced senior civil servants that they were the duly appointed power in the land.

    And despite all the West Lothian question talk, it was Margaret Ritchie, and not an SNP Minister, who provoked the first serious fight between Westminster and a devolved government (and rightly so).

    but those pre-fabed SF questions are indicative of substantive sub rosa briefings in advance of the session

    I have to disagree Mick. The pre-fabbed questions were evidence of the Shinners not having a clue what was going to happen. Basically, everyone (except for Alliance and, obviously, the SDLP) thought Margaret was going to bottle it. The subject was raised at Executive a number of times so it’s not like

    In the south, we have the office of President being brought into disrepute by its incumbent socialising with murderers and organised criminals, inviting them to Áras an Uachtaráin, legitimising criminality, and with her husband playing golf with a convicted extortionist.

    Good point. The Presidency is another institution that emerges from this mess a little tarnished.

    Executive collapses.

    No chance. One thing that Tuesday proved was that our institutions may be poor but they are solid. No-one has anywhere else to go. Peter Robinson turned up for a private member’s motion on fiscal reform at 5 pm on Tuesday like nothing had happened.

    The DUP claim to have ‘God on their side’ but I prefer having history on mine.

    History is on no-one’s side. Even a Marxist should know better than that these days! If you think this is somehow another step towards a United Ireland, then you are reading what you want to read into things.

    The DUP modernisers are busy destroying their credibility over the Irish Language Act

    With whom? (Not that I agree with them, but who are they destroying their credibility with? Not their own base.)

  • joeCanuck

    All good points, Sammy.

  • Briso

    Posted by Sammy Morse on Oct 18, 2007 @ 04:24 PM
    Executive collapses.

    No chance. One thing that Tuesday proved was that our institutions may be poor but they are solid. No-one has anywhere else to go. Peter Robinson turned up for a private member’s motion on fiscal reform at 5 pm on Tuesday like nothing had happened.

    You may turn out to be right, but nothing has been proven yet. You’ve really jumped the gun. Robbo thinks he is in charge. He thinks St Andrews gives him that. We’ll see what pans out over time.

  • Ian

    El Mat:

    “I wonder if the civil servants proffering advice to Margaret are the same brains who advised the Direct Rulers to launch this joke of a scheme in the first place.”

    You may find the answer here:

    http://www.nio.gov.uk/media-detail.htm?newsID=12387

    http://archive.nics.gov.uk/sd/060404c-sd.htm

  • lib2016

    The unionist power base is aging. Nationalists have the choice of a middleclass middleaged party with huge international respect and good links to Fianna Fail and a party with a short term strategy focussed on grabbing power at the earliest possible opportunity and embraced as brothers by Mandala and the ANC. That seems to appeal on a pretty wide front to me.

    With unionism and nationalism approaching equality what counts now is who can attract a section however small of the next generation from the opposing community.

    It won’t be the DUP with their ‘spin’ about the modernisers at the last election. They’ll hold on to the rednecks who have nowhere else to go as Briso points out but that’s not enough.

    As for Robinson’s current bluster? That is a standard DUP debating tactic and what earned Paisley the ‘Grand old Duke of York’ name. It doesn’t impress.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    lib2016: “The unionist power base is aging. Nationalists have the choice of a middleclass middleaged party with huge international respect and good links to Fianna Fail and a party with a short term strategy focussed on grabbing power at the earliest possible opportunity and embraced as brothers by Mandala and the ANC.”

    Tunnel vision is a limitation, not an advantage. Neither, for that matter, is haste. Throw in the fact that SF is spinning like a roulette wheel and you got a recipe for potential disaster, not success. But, then, most political types have more than enough ego and not nearly enough sense, believing that if they stand in one place and wish hard enough, things will go there way.

    lib2016: “With unionism and nationalism approaching equality what counts now is who can attract a section however small of the next generation from the opposing community. ”

    Mayhap, but I doubt it’s going to be SF that attracts folks across the tribal lines, lib… The last few days antics have clearly demonstrated they’re clumsy, little slow on the uptake and have no moral center — they were all for jobs for the boys, right up until they were against it… not exactly the sterling image that will lure folks across the color line.

    lib2016: ”
    As for Robinson’s current bluster? That is a standard DUP debating tactic and what earned Paisley the ‘Grand old Duke of York’ name. It doesn’t impress. ”

    Neither does SF’s plodding their way through canned questions that seem painfully off point.

    In fact, the only one who impressed was the Minister from that middle-aged, middle class party. People follow leaders, not parties or committees. Ritchie demonstrated herself to be a leader, SF muffed their opportunity. Will there be others? Yup. But if it’s the same collection of bobble-head dolls, I can’t imagine I would expect any better results.

  • lib2016

    DC,

    Not Sinn Fein’s greatest moment I’ll agree but they’ve been written off before. Far too early for that sort of judgement just as it would be wrong to write the SDLP off because someone accepted an OBE.

    The SDLP probably do have a reasonable future. It would be a great pity to go back to the old situation with just two parties confronting each other.

    As for who attracts the post-unionist voter? That could be a surprise. Remember that Sinn Fein will want to attract the more radical voters while the SDLP will be looking for the Chamber of Commerce people. There is a larger unionist middleclass vote out there but are they ready to vote tactically?

  • Robbo thinks he is in charge.

    Of course, but remember Robbo isn’t even undisputed master of his own party, let alone a four-party Executive. Whatever he thinks himself.

    Sinn Fein will want to attract the more radical voters

    By being opposed to an extension of legal abortion, for example?

  • Turgon

    lib 2016,
    “Who will attract the post-unionist voter.” I guess you should get some credit for persistence though I would give you credit for nothing else.

    The chances of unionist voters voting for the political cheerleaders and apologists for the IRA are extremely low. Remeber the debacle that was “Unionist Engagement”, though in fairness as I have previously suggested that was about “engaging” unionists in a similar way to the way SF / IRA have always engaged unionists.

    In the event of a united Ireland in 2016 (clearly so increadibly likely) do you think that unionists are suddenly going to stop voting for the sorts of parties they have always done? Do you really think they will forget 30 plus years of murders by SFs best friends?

    Lib 2016, your understanding of unionists is truly dismal if you really believe that. In fairness though you habe previously evidenced your complete failure to understand unionists. There are nationalist / republican posters who could do unionist outreach. Without wishing to play the man you are going to have to change not only your name but all of your views if you want to do any real engagement.