Whither the Legislative Assembly..

In the supposedly Legislative Assembly today.. In an answer to a question from the Alliance Party leader David Ford, a member of the NI Executive told the Assembly that, in effect, it doesn’t matter what they resolve.. a Minister, any Minister, can do what they want – unless the Executive utilise their collective responsibility in advance of any decision, no doubt. In this particular case, it’s the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board. Recommended for abolition by the Review of Public Administration, in March 2006 then Secretary of State, Peter Hain, announced the board’s demise.. and then a few weeks later, after lobbying from trade unions, reversed his decision. The Agriculture Minister, and her party, have undergone a similar Damascene conversion, after lobbying from the same trade unions and hearing for the first time, allegedly, the other side of an argument which they now claim “does not stand up to scrutiny”. Whither the Legislative Assembly, indeed..

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  • DC

    The only real way of trying to stop a decision would be if the SDLP and UUP ministers, 3 of them, forced a cross-community vote at the executive table; allowing the individual members of the Executive to decide on the issue as a matter of conscience or party/bloc whipping.

    Even at that it wouldn’t act as safeguard because of the apparent ‘opposition’ numbers, but it would force colours to be nailed to the mast for future reference and argument’s sake, particularly in the media as means to determine who backed what.

    It was the UUP and SDLP moving the motion during the transitional assembly so if Gildernew goes ahead those party ministers should raise the 3-member executive point of concern and allow for a cross-community vote, in order to show that they at least opted out letting the weight of the combined others pull it through.

    It seems to be the best that can be hoped for but it is coming clear that the Assembly looks to be powerless when faced with the Executive intent.

  • joeCanuck

    Yes, I noticed all of that, Pete. Talk about flip-flopping.
    But didn’t the Assembly instruct her, via motion, (last week?) to proceed with the abolition? Has she changed her mind again or is it just an out of touch party colleague?

  • Pete Baker

    “But didn’t the Assembly instruct her, via motion, (last week?) to proceed with the abolition?”

    Yes they did, Joe. Hence the title of this post and the links contained within.

  • Mick Fealty

    So, contrary to public perception, what we have here is a well paid electoral college with some highly circumscribed ‘get-to-look-at-government-proposals-first’ privileges?

    Yet, if Ministers can so easily defy a free vote in the Assembly, you have to ask to what end?

    Are there any real powers that the Speaker might be obliged to defend on behalf of the Legislative [sic] Assembly?

  • interested

    Of course all those Private Members Motions are powerless – that was pointed out very early on when a combination of the Alliance Party and SDLP motions would have spend the block grant in the first fortnight if their motions had been binding on the Executive.

    There are of course a couple of ways in which the issue in this case could be resolved.

    1) The Minister can act – but she has refused in this case. It seems that opposition politics were very different for Sinn Fein.

    2) The people who tabled this Private Members Motion could actually go and table a Private Members Bill. That, if passed, would be binding on the Assembly and the Minister to act.

    3) The Committee can work to bring forward the required legislation. The Chairman of that Committee has already said he intends to get the Committee to bring forward the legislation if the Minister wont.

    Frankly I’m glad that motions put down in the Assembly aren’t binding. I’ve watched a few of them and it just seems to be a putting forward of any idea at all to get some publicity. They’re the glorious outworking of getting loads of Councillors together and letting them think they have some power. Mind you – actually making the motions binding might give them some responsibility for their actions, but I actually doubt it.

  • red branch

    Crucially I thought the great DUP victory at St Andrews etc was to make Minister abide by Assembly decisions. Clearly that too was a lie.

    i have no beef either way on the question of the Agricultural Wages Board but surely something remains ary when a Minister can ignore the Assembly and do what he or she likes.

    Has anyone pointed out to the DUP that yet again their victory seems to have turned to dust at the first challenge.

  • interested

    red branch
    Accountability is present post-St Andrews – its just not done by tabling a nonsense motion in the Assembly.

    You partly hit the nail with your comments though – no-one is likely to get overly worked up about the future of the AWB though. Its not exactly a resignation issue and enforced accountability no doubt will be held for issues of a little more import.

  • Turgon

    red branch,
    Very true.

    The DUP did gain things at St. Andrews. The reality is, however, that they did not gain that much. Their gains were incremental ones over those gained by the UUP previously. Whilst these DUP gains are not insignificant they were clearly nowhere near adequate to satisfy their previous manifesto committments and are of course nowhere as great as the DUP proclaimed after St. Andrews and ever since.

    On the specific issue of ministers ignoring the assembly. The only possibility is if interested is right and an assembly bill or decision by the relevant committee can force the minister to take a given course of action, or can that also be blocked by the various vetoes?

  • interested

    What you believe was or wasn’t achieved by the DUP at St Andrews is for you to argue. The mechanisms are there and the fact that accountability isn’t a very ‘visible’ issue and is hard for people to encapsulate within their mind doesn’t make it any less significant.

    There is an issue with the accountability measures that they are more suited to preventing a Minister from taking actions which are objectionable to one community or the other than they are at forcing a Minsiter to take action. Whilst its not absolutely perfect its suitable for a few reasons, and particularly suitable for unionists for a number of others.

    Firstly, the historical problems within devolution were with Ministers pushing things through which the Assembly objected to – see Belfast maternity services and the attempt to scrap academic selection. The AWB example (fairly low level as it is) is the only one I can think of where a Minister has been pushed to take action and they are opposed to it – possibly the other example is Ruane and the replacement for the 11+ but that example is different as there is a statutory requirement to have academic selection so she will eventually be forced to move.

    It suits unionists probably more than nationalists because on the whole (but not exclusively) it is nationalists/republicans who are most often pushing for changes which unionists object to (see the Irish Language Act etc etc). The accountability measures in place prevent a Minister from pushing through those kind of issues which are not in place at the present but without the measures could be imposed. More often than not unionists wish to block things like the ILA which nationalists push for – however the reverse isn’t often there. I can’t think of that many things demanded by unionists which nationalists would see as some politically inspired demand – its not like unionists are wanting to see some Orange Order Act pushed though which would demand that the Orange Order was promoted throughout Government (I know that its not an equal comparison but it does make a point).

    Back to the AWB – yes it is an issue which many people, particularly within the farming community, believe should be dealt with. However, its not a life and death issue and if the biggest problem that this Assembly and Executive faces was whether Michelle Gildernew scrapped the AWB then I think that would be an example of just how far we’ve come.

    The issue isn’t just about her refusal to scrap the body though. In fact, it wouldn’t even be an issue were it not for the fact that Sinn Fein had previously waxed eloquently about the need to get rid of the AWB and had supported a motion in the Transitional Assembly inspired by the Ulster Farmers Union. Had the Shinners objected to its removal at that stage there probably wouldn’t be an issue actually.

    Whilst its great fun having a go at the Shinners for their u-turn on policy but its not exactly the most vital issue in the world.