Why Margaret Ritchie has bigger balls than the DUP…

AFTER the cracks in the Executive finally split on Tuesday, political commentator David Adams made some astute comments on Talkback on the lack of joint responsibility in the enforced coalition. While I don’t have a copy of his script, he noted the lack of clear lines between ministerial autonomy and collective responsibility. For example, Sinn Fein seemed to have no idea in advance of the DUP Culture Minister’s ‘decision’ to bin the Irish language bill. But did Poots even make a decision? Well, despite the hype, no, he didn’t, as yesterday’s statement from the Executive makes clear, he merely “signalled his own intentions in relation to the making of legislation”. When Poots said “I remain unpersuaded that there is a compelling case for progressing legislation, at this time” it is stating a mere opinion, in the same way the DUP Environment Minister was only “minded” to grant permission to Seymour Sweeney’s Causeway plans. So why are DUP ministers only indicating their personal views? Adams suggests it allows them to let their supporters know that what they want in advance of any collective Executive decision, which might be different. Hence, no Maze stadium decision, no Causeway decision, no victim’s commissioner. In other words, it allows the DUP ministers to be seen not to be part of the collective decision-making process – which is exactly what they are accusing Margaret Ritchie of. The difference is, Ritchie seems to have asked the other ministers for their views and then had the balls to make an actual decision, instead of fudging it.

  • KieranJ

    Yep, she’s a very fiesty and brave woman. I watched her on Hearts and Minds. She will not be moved.

    I admire her very much.

  • Marty

    Fair play to her.

  • Cadiz

    I was really impressed, and surprised, after dealing with NIO civil servants for years it is always wild to imagine Sir Humphrey Appleby, GCB, KBE , MVO, MA (Oxon) & ilk, having a fit.

  • BOM

    Well done to Margaret for standing up for clear decency and integrity!

    The DUP and Sinn Fein are always too scared to make decisions on difficult issues – Ms Ruane still ahsnt made a decision on the 11+, Murphy is stalling on his water rates, Foster is simply keeping herself right by saying she is minded to approve a controversial application and Poots wants to ensure that all Unionists know his opinion on the Irish language act for future elections but wont be seen to be the brave one to either scrap it or implement it.

    What is wrong with them?

    Should we be voting in Representatives who havent got the balls to assess each situation and come to a rational decision for the betterment of the community?

    Margaret has shown that she is the only one prepared to take her role seriously and make the hard decisions and take the consequences.

    I hope she continues to keep her stance and show Northern Ireland.

  • David Adams

    Belfast Gonzo
    Hope you don’t mind, but below I have pasted the full transcript of the Talkback piece you refer to.

    “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”.”

  • David Ford

    Thanks for this, David.

    a/ All the more credit to Margaret for actually taking a decision.

    b/ At the ‘Review’ Committee discussing Devolution of Justice on Tuesday morning, Alliance argued that collectivity in the Executive was a key issue or justice could not be transferred successfully. We didn’t know how swiftly and how conclusively the proof of this would arrive.

  • confuzzed

    People complained the last time the system was too much individual ministerial fiefdoms and no collective responsibility. In St Andrews there were a number of changes around this issue.

    Ministers who comply with this shift towards collective responsibility and comply with the checks and balances agreed are ‘bad’. While a minister who played fast and loose with collective responsibility from the beginning even if it is for a worthy decision. is the good person with ‘balls’. There is a threat to colective responsibility of the executive but it isn’t Poots or Foster at the moment it is Ritchie.

  • Briso

    >Posted by confuzzed on Oct 19, 2007 @ 10:28 AM
    >People complained the last time the system was too much individual ministerial fiefdoms and no
    >collective responsibility.

    I didn’t. Didn’t see any other way it could or can work.

  • URQUHART

    “There is a threat to colective responsibility of the executive but it isn’t Poots or Foster at the moment it is Ritchie” – nice try confuzzed.

    Problem for you and others who try to undo the damage of Tuesday is that the Executive WERE ASKED for their input into this decision and declined to get involved.

    They Ran Away.

  • confuzzed

    Urquhart

    “Problem for you and others who try to undo the damage of Tuesday is that the Executive WERE ASKED for their input into this decision and declined to get involved.”

    No problem for me and others at all. AFAIK MR took the original decision then consulted/tried to get post-approval from her Executive colleagues. Would appear to be the wrong way round would it not? If the Executive didn’t want any “input” or “ran away” why did they want the legal information and recommendation brought back to a meeting?

  • mekong

    Wrong Urquart,

    Rithie announced her intentions to stop this money to the media very early in the process, she was then informed by her department that legally it may be not possible to stop it. She ran to the Executive for some political cover for media prouncements and was told if she had already made her decision then get on with it, it was a matter for DSD. If wants the Executive to run her department she should resign and be done with it.

  • Nevin

    This earlier Irish Times report (19 April 2007) may already have been blogged:

    Call to ditch loyalist funding plan

  • URQUHART

    Mekong and Conuzzed, rewriting history might have worked elsewhere, but unfortunately it’s not going to work here.

    Mekong, you say: “She ran to the Executive for some political cover for media prouncements and was told if she had already made her decision then get on with it, it was a matter for DSD.”

    Actually, what many of them said, including SF ministers, was ‘no comment’. Your problem is that she did go ahead and ‘get on with it’, caught both the DUP and SF benches by surprise, and now they’re both flailing around trying to come up with a different version of events that might make a single person believe they were not trying to continue the policy of appeasement.

  • confuzzed

    Urquhart

    “Your problem is that she did go ahead and ‘get on with it’” “to continue the policy of appeasement.”

    No rewriting needed. The right decision can be reached by the wrong route IMO shouldn’t have been given in the first place. She took the original decision then sought backing, wrong way round. Then when the executive seeks a role she goes her own way and accuses them of bullying.

  • URQUHART

    confuzzed, I don’t want to be rude, but that is a lie.

    Upon taking up her role, she went to the first minister and his deputy asking what approach they wanted to take on this issue.

    She was told she was on her own.

    Has just been confirmed by Reg Empey on Talkback.

  • The Penguin

    Does Vincent Kearney not realise the significance of what Reg Empey just confirmed? He waffled over everything that we already know but not once referred to Reg’s confirmation.
    And what the hell was that crap from the Scottish Telegraph guy all about?

    They should have been majoring on Reg’s confirmation that Ritchie is absolutely right on the minutes. As well as the unprecedented haste there was to get minutes passed by a majority vote so that she can be hung out to dry on “breaking” the ministerial code.
    Terrible bit of coverage of a big development.

  • The Dubliner

    “Ministers who comply with this shift towards collective responsibility and comply with the checks and balances agreed are ‘bad’.” – confuzzed

    As Davy Adams points out:

    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”.

    The ministers are abusing the system for the purpose of avoiding controversial decisions. In the case of Margaret Ritchie, the decision to stop the funding of groups linked to organised crime was at odds with the decision to continue the funding that was de facto made by the puppetmasters, i.e the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, the British SoS, the US Special Envoy, and the NIO. PSF supported their puppetmasters but didn’t want to be seen to do so in case the public didn’t support the decision, so they avoided Margaret Ritchie’s de facto operation of “collective responsibility for her decision” with cowardly replies such as “no comment” to her requests for their input into her decision. There isn’t any point for blaming Margaret Ritchie for defending the authority of a minister to make decisions against the cartel of puppets and their puppetmasters who were aligned against her. The blame for perverting the process lies with those who actually perverted it, not those who upheld the democratic process and the will of the public to stop this incessant and insidious appeasement of crimimals.

  • confuzzed

    Urquhart

    “Upon taking up her role, she went to the first minister and his deputy asking what approach they wanted to take on this issue.”

    I am talking about the 60 day decision. She took the decision then sought backing. I didn’t hear Talkback but this is what another Executive colleague had to say about it weeks ago.
    http://www.sinnfein.ie/news/detail/20302

    I am not lying about the Executive involvement either. Ritchie fully accepts the matter WAS discussed at the previous Executive meeting and three(/five) other minister’s were identified to be involved in the process namely FM, DFM (possibly junior ministers included) and MFP. Under the official version the matter was discussed by the executive and it was to be brought back.

    If there was no executive involvement then there would be no argument about minutes or claims of executive bullying? How is disucussing it and asking for others to be involved running away?

  • Rapunsel

    Dubliner

    Good post on this and spot on in my view.

    Look at the pathetic wriggling on a so called procedural issue( which I believe will come out in Ritchie’s favour)

    Ritchie is still looking and acting the honorable and principled one on all this and Reg Empey’s intervention is important.

  • pith

    Margaret Ritchie is definitely ahead in this one. Hopefully it won’t be ruined for her by some daft PR firm coming up with an MLA of the year award.

  • Nevin

    “Why Margaret Ritchie has bigger balls than the DUP…”

    … and SF has no balls at all 😉

  • Alex S

    Is there a mechanism for forcing an early assembly election, might seem silly now but in a years time?

  • Anyone read Chris Gaskin’s blog today? How could anyone possibly ever suggest suggest that senior civil servants could have anything but the purest of motives, says Chris. Amazing how quickly Sinn Féin have moved from putting manners on them to taking orders from them, isn’t it?

    I wonder how many of these people with odd usernames, defending arcane points of procedure, who we haven’t seen before, are members of the Executive?

    As others have said, this matter has been discussed at the Executive table on a number of occasions. Other Ministers ducked the debate to leave Margaret carrying the can. What they misread was that 80-85% of the public would be behind Margaret and they would end up looking like eejits.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Sammy Morse: “Anyone read Chris Gaskin’s blog today? How could anyone possibly ever suggest suggest that senior civil servants could have anything but the purest of motives, says Chris. Amazing how quickly Sinn Féin have moved from putting manners on them to taking orders from them, isn’t it? ”

    Aw, c’mon, Sammy… they bureaucrats are the only ones who know where the toner is for the copiers and the key to the petty cash drawer.

    SF does its best imitation of a freshly caught fish, flipping and flopping the deck, its eyes wide with a lack of comprehension and its mouth, slack-jawed and open.

    Sammy Morse: “I wonder how many of these people with odd usernames, defending arcane points of procedure, who we haven’t seen before, are members of the Executive? ”

    Probably none… they have “little people” for that.

    Sammy Morse: “As others have said, this matter has been discussed at the Executive table on a number of occasions. Other Ministers ducked the debate to leave Margaret carrying the can. What they misread was that 80-85% of the public would be behind Margaret and they would end up looking like eejits. ”

    Here endeth the lesson… Amen.

  • IJP

    Basically the point is that the DUP is more willing to challenge the legalities of a Minister’s decision, than the legalities of the actions of a bunch of gangsters.

    Which is telling.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    “Why Margaret Ritchie has bigger balls than the DUP…”

    Nevin: “… and SF has no balls at all 😉 ”

    Ach, Nevin, it’s not a lack of balls, it’s just a matter of SF not knowing what to do with them. They can’t even lay claim to being like a weathervane, moving with the preferences of the people…

    Hell, their drifting into broken watch territory… right only twice a day, although almost through no fault of their own.

  • sammaguire

    A woman with balls! What a fine choice for FF as Presidential candidate 2011! Right age,sex etc. No doubt these things are being discussed in the merger talks….