Of Ritchie, Robinson and the UDA

According to the Newsleter and the BBC: the executive met last week to discuss Margaret Ritchie’s approach to the CTI funding. We are none the wiser as to how the meeting went as Pete mentions here and here.I am normally quite a fan of Gregory Campbell but I think he has a problem saying that if Ritchie loses in court her place in the executive will be open to question. The reality is that Ritchie’s decision was extremely popular with the general public. If she is found to have acted illegally she will indeed lose in law but it will not change her moral, political and PR victory. Instead the law will be seen to have been an ass and will be seen as supporting the UDA. Whatever protests the DUP make; they will be in grave danger of also being seen by the public as supporting giving money to the UDA. All the protestations about legal correctness will be seen as spin and weasel words. If Ritchie were forced to resign she would be a martyr to very many of the population.

If Ritchie wins she will be seen as a bit of a hero: she will have taken a very popular decision, will be seen to have deprived the UDA of money, and will be seen as having stood up to the DUP and SF and won.

It looks as if SF have worked this one out and according to the BBC are going to support Ritchie; by the time of the result of the court case the fact that they initially opposed her may well be forgotten. If the DUP continues to oppose Ritchie they are setting themselves up for a political no win. Robinson who took the lead in attacking Ritchie will be seen in the worst light.

Robinson is a very cunning tactician as I have mentioned before. However, on this issue he seems to have had a bit of a blind spot as to the public’s mood. It may be that he is now torn between maintaining the pressure on Ritchie, facing her down and stamping his authority further on the executive: or the alternative; making a tactical withdrawal. The fact that he has kept quiet on this issue recently and has been quite nice to Ritchie suggests that he may well have chosen the latter course, which is almost certainly the wiser political one. If he has I suspect the public will rapidly forget his spat with Ritchie. Could this be why Campbell is being more vocal; in order to cover Robinson’s retreat? Or will Campbell’s remarks merely remind people of the previous DUP position? Any thoughts?

  • JD

    As Turgon commentary confirms this SDLP initiative was never about stopping money to the UDA but was a political stunt in the full knowledge that this will be overturned in court, as the legal advice in advance clearly indicated, and get their minister off the hook of an unpopular direct rule decision. But this attempt to create the impression that Ritchie did something brave is cynical in the extreme, the UDA is getting the money and her moves have contributed to that, all this was about was trying to push the blame away.

    On the wider picture it looks like Robinson wants his pound of flesh, he was right legally and he wants to prove it. This means the executive may go to a vote on this and if it is lost, Ritchie loses the court case on two counts: the breach of the ministerial code as she proceeded without executive approval and breach of contract.

  • Turgon

    JD,
    We will have to agree to differ here. I think she wanted to stop the money and although I am not a lawyer and may well be wrong I have a suspicion she will win. Even if she looses I think she will have gained a moral and PR victory and it will be difficult to force her to resign over this.

  • JD

    I do not want her to resign over this (there will be plenty of other more substantial reasons over the years to come) I merely think the SDLP will be exposed, there was a credible method for stopping the money getting to the UDA and Ritchie chose not to take it but she went for a stunt that she knew would mean the money would go there anyway but absolve herself of the blame. I agree the compexities of this may be lost on the public and she may escape in the smoke but a hero she is not.

  • runciter

    this SDLP initiative was never about stopping money to the UDA but was a political stunt etc etc

    Ritchie’s detractors should realise that every time they come out with this nonsense, they make it more obvious that they would have preferred it if the minister had paid the gangsters.

    Such blatant cynicism is not only repellant – it is also politically reckless.

    Slow learners indeed…

  • JD

    Although Margaret Ritchie is the minister I do not blame her for this cynical move, this was thought up in SDLP HQ and has worked well so far due to Robinsons’ percieved bullying of a female member of the executive. However it is still appropriate to point out that this was about blame shifting, not stopping money to the UDA.

  • Hogan

    Robinson has no particular axe to grind here. The reason he found himself on the wrong side of public opinion was that he was chosen by Nigel Hamilton and the NIO as the ‘pet pit-bull’ on this one.

    He was still finding his way in the new circumstances at the time and his ego let him get carried away into accepting the role. He probably didn’t mind demonstrating that he was ‘the enforcer’ on the executive team. He didn’t bank on Margaret having the balls to withstand the pressure of the NIO/Irish govt./US govt./DUP/SF combined.

    A mere miscalulation on his part, but whatever you say about Peter you can bank he won’t be stupid enough to have his pants pulled down by Hamilton again.

    The legal aspects will be lost on the general public beyond the commentariat and sluggerites, but not on the electorate in South Down 09.

  • joeCanuck

    I think you are totally wrong in your analysis, J.D.

    I think this is definitely a no-win situation for the DUP but the bigger question is whether or not it will cost them at the ballot box.

  • oisin

    so how many uda votes are there in east belfast?

  • URQUHART

    JD, that line is tiresome. Ritchie did the right thing because it was the right thing.

    Remember that she took legal advice which said she was permitted to take the course of action that she did.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Although Margaret Ritchie is the minister I do not blame her for this cynical move, this was thought up in SDLP HQ and has worked well so far due to Robinsons’ percieved bullying of a female member of the executive. However it is still appropriate to point out that this was about blame shifting, not stopping money to the UDA.

    JD, okay I’ll bite. Would you have continued the UDA’s funding ? If not, how would you have stopped it ?

    Sinn Fein have stopped parroting this silly line. It doesn’t matter whether it was conceived as a stunt or not, it was the right thing to do. People here are tired of the paramilitaries getting away with doing whatever they want. Ritchie achieved something rare by uniting ordinary voting unionists and nationalists behind her.

  • JD

    The right thing to do was to stop the money to the UDA, Ritchie has not done this and did not intend to do this, the court case is already lost the day the decision was taken, this is about blame shifting. It is inaccurate to say that this SDLP decision was brave or morally correct it was not it was cynical and has ensured the UDA will be funded.

  • JD

    Comrade Stalin,

    The options in front of her at the time included the ability to renegotiate the contract with FARSET to further ensure that not a penny of the money that was to be released could find its way into the hands of the UDA. This would have been a very plausible and reasonable proposal with the fact that she was a new minister inheriting an unpopular decision. She chose not to do this but went for a decommissioning deadline that was predictably not going to be met and then went against legal advice to stop the funding which was knowingly going to be overturned by a judge. But ah well, gets her off the hook, wasn’t me guv it was the judge. No balls required just a heavy dose of cynacism and clever PR. Jackie McDonald will be laughing all the way to the bank.

  • joeCanuck

    Who is going to win the 3 o’clock at Cheltenham tomorrow, JD?

  • JD

    If I knew I’d tell you but this issue does not compare with the uncertainty of a race, the advice she got was clear – you will lose if you take this course, no ifs nor buts, but take this course she did knowing its result, brigadiers of bling get more bling.

  • joeCanuck

    I was pretty sure that the internal advice was that there was a risk of losing, not a certainty.

  • Cuchulainn

    the fact Richie and thE SDLP took the right decision in stopping the money going to the UDA, and they are smart enough to know if it will go through in court, after all they do have plenty of lawyers on thier lists to check with.

    even if it doesnt go through court, all u people who think it was a stunt on be-half of the SDLP are just wishful thinkers. could political moral and majority favored ruling.

    as for the effects on south down election, i think Ruane is basically beating herself.

    the SDLP are starting to show some real politics and has the SF/DUP running scared so they are out to cut them down at every chance th3ey have, IMO they are out to protect thier own power base, they know if either of them fall, the both do, so the SDLP poses a bigger problem than the UU.

    by the time the next election comes round, the SDLP will be fighting on thier own steam, dont be surprised if the have 2 or 3 executive seats, time SF and DUP stop thier schoolground slagging and do some real work to stay popular!!

  • Dread Cthulhu

    JD: “The options in front of her at the time included the ability to renegotiate the contract with FARSET to further ensure that not a penny of the money that was to be released could find its way into the hands of the UDA. This would have been a very plausible and reasonable proposal with the fact that she was a new minister inheriting an unpopular decision. She chose not to do this but went for a decommissioning deadline that was predictably not going to be met and then went against legal advice to stop the funding which was knowingly going to be overturned by a judge.”

    Advice supplied to her by the same collection of marmosets and mugs who originally approved the program in the first place, in all probability. Hardly an unbiased source of legal interpretation and advice.

    The court-room is a place of battle where two sides duke it out to see which side hired the better legal minds. I suspect that the SDLP has a few brighter bulbs on hand that the typical goverment bureaucrat.

  • Ian

    Former SoS Hain’s appointments/sweeteners to the DUP now have a history of being overturned in legal challenges.

    Does consideration of the legitimacy of the original decision to fund Farset, form part of this latest judicial review?

    If the original funding decision was ruled to be illegal (in so far as the funds weren’t allocated on the basis of need but on the political and religious make-up of the target community), then the funding would cease automatically.

    After all, David Burrows has got no recourse to legal action against anybody, following the Lords ruling which led to his immediate dismissal from the Parades Commission.