A peek behind our ‘photo op’ democracy…

David Adams has kindly pasted in his Talkback piece: “the same major problems that haunted the last power-sharing executive haven’t gone away – nor is there the slightest indication that they will.” Full script below the fold:By David Adams:

“Forget about the specifics of yesterday’s decision by Minister Margaret Ritchie, and whether you agree with her or not.

What emerged into plain view as a result of her decision – and almost certainly would have emerged no matter what she had decided to do – was just how tenuous the whole Executive set-up really is.

Behind the feel-good speechifying, the sound bites and the clichés – and behind the laugh-a-minute antics of the Chuckle Brothers, it seems the same major problems that haunted the last power-sharing executive haven’t gone away – nor is there the slightest indication that they will.

There is, for example, still no clarity on where the autonomy of a minister ends and the collective responsibility of the Executive begins.

Do ministers even discuss major issues at the Executive?

And if they do, why then did a whole row that should have taken place in the privacy of an executive meeting erupt in full view of the public on the floor of the assembly?

Or is it really the case that our ministers and the Executive don’t actually take decisions on potentially divisive issues at all, but in fact only give the impression they have?

Take yesterday’s announcement on an Irish language act by Minister Edwin Poots.

Every single Sinn Fein person interviewed right up until the announcement was made indicated clearly that they had no idea what the minister was going to do.

So we can only presume that it wasn’t discussed at a meeting of the executive, or Sinn Fein representatives would have known beforehand what decision had been taken.

So how then, you might ask, was Minister Poots able to take a decision without informing the executive first, but Minister Ritchie wasn’t?

Well, think about that one for a second – Did minister Poots actually take a decision or did he just indicate that he wasn’t going to take a particular decision – that he wasn’t going to implement an Irish language act?
Now that might all amount to the same thing to the likes of you and me, but in the hair-splitting world of politics, semantics are everything.

Or was Minister Poots merely indicating what his views are on an Irish language act, without actually saying that he had decided anything?

You’ll remember Minister Arlene Foster did the same thing over the building of a visitors centre at the Giants Causeway.

Arlene took great care to point out that she only had said that she was “minded” to accept a plan from a private developer – and she was absolutely right, she hadn’t confirmed that she was going to do anything.

So what’s the point of it all?

Well, it means that each minister can signal to their own electorate what isn’t going to happen, without the executive as a collective body having to actually discuss or decide anything.

And this is because there are hard decisions on either side that the DUP and Sinn Fein are afraid to be seen in the eyes of their electorate to have a shared responsibility for.

So, for this reason, decisions aren’t being made by the executive at all, there’s just a pretence of decision-making, but the hard issues are actually being pushed further down the line.

It’s why a sod hasn’t yet been turned on a national stadium or a museum at the Maze; why a brick hasn’t yet been laid on a two-bit visitors centre at the Giants Causeway; and why we’re back to square one on the appointment of a victim’s commissioner.

Far from taking decisions on thorny issues, the executive doesn’t even discuss them.

Where the executive is concerned, no matter what decision Margaret Ritchie was going to take yesterday, she broke an unwritten ministerial code when she brought a potentially divisive issue to the executive in the first place, and asked individual ministers for their views.

And it could just as easily have been any divisive issue!

What frightened the life out of them was that, whatever way she eventually went, by the very act of them discussing the matter they would by definition then have to share collective responsibility for her decision.

Reportedly, fellow ministers that she spoke to at the Executive could only reply “no comment”.
It’s no wonder, when you consider the unwritten ministerial code – that you shouldn’t actually take a decision, but only indicate that you are “of a mind to”.”

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