Environment Minister to sue Sinn Féin MLA?

The Northern Ireland Environment minister, the DUP’s Arlene Foster, did warn everyone, when she announced that she was “of a mind to approve” Seymour Sweeney’s planning application for a Causeway Visitors Centre, that “If anyone impugns my integrity in this matter I will be seeking legal advice and will act accordingly.” It would appear that she thinks Sinn Féin’s Daithí McKay, MLA, has done just that, and according to this report, the Assembly today heard the following exchange

Daithí McKay: “Can I ask the minister to confirm today if she will use her department to take legal action against me and if not will she now recognise that the role of departmental legal advisors isn’t to take part in political witch hunts against members of this Assembly.”
Arlene Foster: “I am currently seeking legal advice on the action of his statement of November 8 and in relation to that I am not going to make any further comment.. I am sure he will be hearing from either me or the departmental solicitor’s office in the near future.”

, , ,

  • cut the bull

    If the Environment minister is successful and wins this case, what will happen, will Sinn Féin as party be fined or will Daithí Mc Kay be fined.

    If Daithí is fined and refuses to pay will he be sent to Maghaberry,this is clearly a political case,therefore will Daithí Mc Kay be treated as a political prisoner.

  • I think the Arlene and Daithí have both dealt with the situation quite badly. While I don’t think every minister needs to be Paisley’s Smashie to McGuinness’s Nicie in this situation the only people who will benefit from this is the solicitors and Mr Sweeney as I’m pretty sure in the event of legal proceedings certain questions can’t be asked.

  • Is there a chance that McKay is showing a degree of sophistication here, to get the whole mess into open court?

  • Rapunsel

    Cut the bull

    Stop talking it!

  • cut the bull

    Rapunzel I believe that I have made a very valid point, after all this will be a political trial

  • Turgon

    Ponder makes an interesting contrast in the behaviour of Foster and Daithi (sorry I cannot do those accent typed things I mean no insult), as does Malcolm Redfellow.

    This could be that these two are not part of the love in or that the love in does not extend that far which is the most likely option.

    At the risk of being really paraniod and Machiavellian however, could I suggest that this sort of spat has advantages for both SF and the DUP? It allows them to be seen to not be that involved in the love in and to appear not to have sold out quite so many principles; whilst at the same time not really being that important or damaging to their cooperation in the executive. For Foster especially I can imagine that not being seen to be too friendly with SF could be an advantage when and if she tries for the FST Westminister seat.

  • joeCanuck

    Any hints as to what he said? Is it in the public domain?

  • joeCanuck @ 08:46 PM:

    At a quick guess, it’s the “Big L”-word and more in this: http://www.anphoblacht.com/news/detail/21887

  • joeCanuck

    Thanks, Malcolm.

  • Alex S

    My goodness one politician can’t call another a liar without getting sued, why did’nt someone to Trimble, he could have made a fortune!

  • Billy Pilgrim

    I’ve got to say, it’s a pretty worrying to think an executive minister would sue an assembly member over comments made in the course of a debate in what is a legitimate constituency issue for McKay.

    I mean, would it be too much to expect that our political leaders would show a little thickness-of-skin in the cut and thrust of political debate? Surely it’s worrying to think ministers are going to go around suing backbench MLAs for comments that do relate to a real political issue. (I mean, it’s not like McKay just accused Arlene Foster, apropos of nothing, of eating babies or whatever.) Indeed, Foster made the threat before anyone said anything – as in, “don’t anybody dare question me or it’ll be the courts for you”.

    As much as anything else, it just demonstrates an extraordinary lack of class on her part.

  • joeCanuck

    As a related aside, for any constitutionalist who has the time and inclination to display their knowledge:
    – Does parliamentary privilege extend to devolved administrations?
    -Is that codified?
    -Is it codified in England or is it just a part of English Common Law?
    -Does N.I. have its own common law or does it rely on the English?
    -What about Scotland and Wales?

  • Does Arlene read AP/RN?

  • Garibaldy

    El Mat,

    It is now an official government publication, so why wouldn’t she?

  • lámh dearg

    Turgon

    It’s not hard to master

    á, é, í, ó, ú

    Hold the “Alt Gr” key down while hitting the appropriate letter key

  • red branch

    In other countries where freedom of speech is not respected Gov. ministers intimidate opposition by recourse to the courts. Usually to get the opposition banged up. Here?

    The question must be are we seeing the beginning of DUP ministerial intimidation when opposition, legitimate opposition and legitimate questioning is being referred to the courts.

    On the jungle drums I hear that in the past DUP members have been quick to fire off solicitor’s letters when they were bing criticised. Being silenced can come in many guises.

  • joeCanuck @ 09:29 PM:

    The issue of Privilege is valid (and does not, as I understand it, extend fully to devolved Assmblies: in fact, may not be as unqualified, even in Westminster, as some think). The basis for Parliamentary Privilege (again as I understand it, and I am welcoming correction) depends on Parliament being the “High Court of Parliament”. Since the devolved Assemblies do not have that rôle, Privilege is qualified. Any corrections welcome.

    More important here, I suggest, is that McKay made his complaints in the public press, to which privilege would not apply anyway.

    Moreover, he is accusing Foster of the worst crime in the Standing Orders: misleading the House. Her proper resort ought to be to call him out in the Assembly, and have him disciplined thereby (if she feels she has the grounds and the votes).

    The very worst move is to take it to the Courts. That would mean the issue would be hanging around for (perhaps) years. And, depending on the inclination of the Judge, might involve a lot of linen in the wash. Please, oh please …

    Equally interesting (and relevant to the parallel thread on Junior) is whether he properly declared an interest. After all, his “laughter”-raising contribution to the debate on Declaration of Interest was “Hiss off.”

  • joeCanuck

    Once again, much thanks Malcolm.

  • Fermanagh Young Unionist

    Whatever happened the case in which Foster told everyone who even mentioned the 2001 election, that she was suing James Cooper and Ken Maginnis over claims that they were telling people that Arlene Foster encouraged Jim Dixon to stand in 2001?

    Anyone?

    Arlene? (well she use to be a reader of this site anyway…)

  • joeCanuck

    lamn dearg,

    What exactly is the Alt GR key? My keyboard doesn’t have such a key. Two keys?

  • Billy Pilgrim

    JC

    You should have two Alt keys, one either side of the space bar. The Alt Gr key (which may or may not say GR – it may just be another Alt key) is the one to the right of the space bar.

  • joeCanuck

    Thanks Billy but that doesn’t work either.

  • red branch @ 09:51 PM: and Fermanagh Young Unionist @ 10:15 PM:

    Might I remind fellow droolers that the “gagging writ” was a tactic pioneered and developed by the late Robert Maxwell? I later came to know one of his organisers for his 1964 Election at Buckingham, who described it as one of the dirtiest campaigns on/off record, where Maxwell used writs like wall-paper (allegedly).

    Quite frankly, I doubt that the ploy would work too well today and in the North: Judges tend to take a dim view of being used as political pawns. If one has the balls, one simply ignores the “gagging writ”, repeats the claimed “libel” and invites an action for contempt of court. If the aim is to get the matter into court anyway, bingo! In this one, McKay has nothing much to lose, and hero status to win, surely?

  • joeCanuck

    á

    Found an ascii code: type & aacute (no space), e.g.

  • Tkmaxx

    The governing ruling for any devolved administration is the Attorney General.The DUP may not want to go there as their beloved DSO is provided with the guidelines that it may share legal opinion provided to former adminstrations to new administrations. I wonder why? perhaps Margaret Ritchie should ask why something available to the ‘mother of parliaments’ would not apply to NI? Does the DUP not want UK wide principles to apply to NI?

  • Nevin

    For fadas, just hold down Ctrl and Alt while thumping vowel!! áéíóú

  • Nevin

    Here’s a tough question for Foster on Nov 27:

    4. Mr T Lunn (Lagan Valley):

    To ask the Minister of the Environment what is her assessment of the age of the Giant’s Causeway.

    (AQW 1693/08)

  • joeCanuck

    Nope, Nevin.
    That doesn’t work either.
    I know something works because someone showed me before but I’ve forgotten. I guess I’ll have to stick with the ascii code.

  • The Spectator

    Perhaps of interest, Malcolm…

    Section 50 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998

    50 Privilege

    (1) For the purposes of the law of defamation, absolute privilege shall attach to—

    (a) the making of a statement in proceedings of the Assembly; and

    (b) the publication of a statement under the Assembly’s authority.

    (2) A person is not guilty of contempt of court under the strict liability rule as the publisher of any matter—

    (a) in the course of proceedings of the Assembly which relate to a Bill or subordinate legislation; or

    (b) to the extent that it consists of a fair and accurate report of such proceedings which is made in good faith.

    (3) In this section—

    “statement” has the same meaning as in the [1996 c. 31.] Defamation Act 1996;

    “the strict liability rule” has the same meaning as in the [1981 c. 49.] Contempt of Court Act 1981.”

    Paragraph 8 of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland (Elections) Act 1998

    “8(1) For the purposes of the law of defamation, absolute privilege shall attach to—

    (a) the making of a statement in proceedings of the Assembly; and
    (b) the publication of a statement under the Assembly’s authority.

    (2) In this paragraph “statement” has the same meaning as in the Defamation Act 1996.”

  • Judge John Deed

    joeCanuck and Malcolm Redfellow,

    Picked up your discussion on the privilege afforded to members of the assembly and whether the same protection is afforded to devolved assemblies across the UK as in Westminster.

    I am not sure of the basis for Malcolm Redfellows arguments and not challenging them, but they are unnecessary. Privilege is provided under the 1998 northern ireland act and therefore rests in statute rather than common law. Art. 50 states:- Privilege (1) For the purposes of the law of defamation, absolute privilege shall attach to—
    (a) the making of a statement in proceedings of the Assembly; and
    (b) the publication of a statement under the Assembly’s authority.
    (2) A person is not guilty of contempt of court under the strict liability rule as the publisher of any matter—
    (a) in the course of proceedings of the Assembly which relate to a Bill or subordinate legislation; or
    (b) to the extent that it consists of a fair and accurate report of such proceedings which is made in good faith.
    (3) In this section—
    “statement” has the same meaning as in the [1996 c. 31.] Defamation Act 1996;
    “the strict liability rule” has the same meaning as in the [1981 c. 49.] Contempt of Court Act 1981.

    Since you both seem interested in the subject, I hope this clears things up.

  • Nevin
  • joeCanuck

    Thanks, Judge. That certainly makes it very clear.

  • Pete Baker

    To the legal eagles

    Assuming that is the statement referred to, it was made outside of the Assembly.

  • red branch

    The purpose of the “i’ll see my solicitor” is not to get hte matter into court – it’s to intimidate the threat is supposed to be enough.

    It has work for the DUPs before.

    But this time I hope their power is curbed and Mr McKay brazens it out

  • joeCanuck

    I knew Pete.
    Was just curious as to the general rule.

  • joeCanuck

    Thanks Nevin.
    That didn’t work either but it did say, “when you start your computer” so I’ll check next time I restart.

  • joeCanuck

    áéíóú

    Yee haw.
    Thanks, Nevin.

  • The Spectator @ 11:22 PM and
    Judge John Deed @ 11:33 PM:

    Thanks, chaps, that’s the business. (Ooop heer in Yorksheer the connections and synapses are not quite the same as Norf Lunnun.)

    My quick reading of the clauses suggests that (i) official publications which have been sudso’d through the legal mill are safe, but (ii) you’d need to have an eye to being relevant to the Assembly debate and watch your mouth over “a fair and accurate report … made in good faith”. I note that the nit-pickery associated with “standards in local government” doesn’t seem to apply at this Olympian level.

    It comes back to my original assumption, from the An Phoblacht report, that McKay (with, in the circumstances, a legal eye watching over his and the paper’s shoulders) was quite neatly calculating the odds. In this case, good for him.

    Eee, but it’s grim ooop north.

  • Redhaze

    Surely the public would be justified in demanding that Foster pay for any legal action out of her own savings account.

    This privilege is astounding. If an MP or MLA makes comments either inside or outside of the chamber against a member of the public, the onus is on joe bloggs to fund any legal challenge.

    If its a case of her being a minister and as the allegation is connected to her employment that she can use departmental resources, then surely if a polititician uses their place of office to make allegations against members of the public then we should be able to use their resources too?

  • Redhaze @ 12:48 PM:

    Not wholly a fair assessment.

    Were an MLA to do the dirty, he/she could be called to order by the Speaker, or referred to a Privileges Committee. The individual member of the public would have redress through such means, or the Ombudsman service, at minimal cost (but, admittedly, with some fuss and effort). Quite frankly, that’s what an official Opposition is there for.

    Equally, an MLA or Minister does not have automatic rights to use officialdom for personal legal spats. In this case, the issue might be whether McKay allegedly libelled Foster as an individual or as a Minister. At first sight, it seems like the latter; but I’m guessing that McKay is being particularly acute and calculating. Moreover, the froth between Foster and McKay is likely to get subsumed in bigger things.

  • I Wonder

    She is a lawyer though isn’t she? And she works for Mr Abernethy as well. Hmmm.

  • Eagleeyecherry

    If you actually look at Mckay’s statement on the 8th November he is responding to Foster’s statement on monday that what he had said previously was ‘utter rubbish’. So Foster was calling him a liar on the Monday and Mckay responded on Thursday by saying that she was a liar for calling him a liar! Counterclaim anyone?

    If Foster were to use ministerial resources to chase this up it would be an absurd waste of ratepayers’ money.

  • I Wonder @ 02:18 PM:

    I’ve just had a back-track on a couple of past debates. It does seem that this is a lady easy to rile. She certainly was trying to take lumps out of Basil McCrea last Tuesday (after he had chewed her over quite well), while Morrow and Weir had to pile in to protect her. I note that she got slapped down by McClarty (as Deputy Speaker in the Chair) for a non-point of order.

    Those of us who have to watch the fray from afar need eyes and ears closer to the venue to keep us up to the mark. It certainly seems to me that the mongrels and hyenas have spotted Arlene as carrion for the taking.

  • I Wonder

    I think more than a few people were surprised at how quickly she snapped out the threat when this issue first raised its wet little nose (all those weeks ago)

    Reminds me of certain individuals on here who threaten solicitors at being labelled a b1got.

  • cut the bull

    I believe this sisa song that she will will singing for the next couple of months,

    Daithí

    Appeal to the departments lawyers
    You may get an answer the process is slow
    Assembly government please don’t do much to help him
    It`s been nearly five weeks
    And he won`t let it go

    (chorus)

    Daithí is guilty, I pray the judge says so
    What right does he have to say it`s not so
    Daithí is guilty, I pray the judge says so
    What right does he have to say it`s not so

    Testify under pressure, I hope it’s a DUP jury
    Government lawyers it’s my own show
    With rows of grim faces
    False accusations
    He`s framed up for slander
    I pray they won`t let him go

    (chorus)

    What right does he have to say it`s not so
    Daithí is guilty, I pray the judge says so

    The letters were planted
    I hope there’s no matching copies
    No prints to copy, no proof to show
    But Daithí is guilty, I pray the judge says so

    I hope they him no mercy
    I pray they won`t let him go

    (chorus)

    Daithí is guilty, I pray the judge says so
    What right does he have to say it`s not so

    Appeal to the departments lawyers
    You may get an answer the process is slow
    Assembly government please don’t do much to help him
    It`s been nearly five weeks
    And he won`t let it go

    (chorus)

    Daithí is guilty, I pray the judge says so
    What right does he have to say it`s not so

  • Not directly and exclusively relevant to this thread, but I am impressed by Alex Kane’s piece in yesterday’s Newsletter: “Opposition key ingredient”.

    I realise most of Sluggerdom will be ahead of me here, but being presently in Yorkshire puts me somewhat out of the loop.

    Kane may be as verbose as I frequently am, but here he gets it right:
    “… we deserve a government which is based upon unambiguous accountability. With 95% of the MLAs “whipped” by the parties of the Executive Committee, there cannot be genuine accountability. When legislation cannot be held up to rigorous scrutiny, there cannot be accountability. When the electorate doesn’t have a choice between an outgoing government and a credible alternative, there cannot be accountability. When the Executive Committee consists of little more than the occasional reshuffling of the same parties, there cannot be accountability. When there isn’t a formal, funded, effective Opposition, there cannot be accountability. And when you don’t have accountability it is inevitable that you will have bad government.”

    That’s my take, and increasingly (I guess) that of many others outside the DUP/SF bunker.

    Kane starts by agreeing with the tone of much of this thread, but generalises beyond the touchy Arlene:
    “Is it just me, or is the DUP becoming a tad paranoid about the UUP and the issue of Opposition?

    They have adopted a three-pronged attack strategy, claiming that it’s a plot by Basil McCrea to wrest the leadership from Sir Reg, that it’s a sign the UUP is as “divided as ever”; or that it represents backtracking on a manifesto pledge.

    Say what you like and hope that something sticks, seems to be the DUP’s slightly desperate tactic at the moment.”

    We need more McKays and McCreas, holding Ministers to account.

    2008 should be interesting.