Scorched Earth

Scorched Earth is a military tactic which involves destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy while withdrawing from an area. The current tactics of both Catriona Ruane and Edwin Poots have certain similarities.
Ruane is unable to truly realise her vision of ending academic selection and as such, having ensured the destruction of the 11 plus itself, seems intent on placing as many road blocks in front of the grammar schools and any others who still wish to retain academic selection. Of course she proclaims that she is about to produce concrete proposals but apart from a rather vague set of suggestions about transfer at age 14 we have seen little. As I have suggested previously it is not necessarily Ruane’s job to do this alone but it is her job to instruct civil servants to draw up plans. If she were doing this she could easily show us parts of this work in progress to demonstrate that she does indeed have a plan. Her failure to do so does seem to imply that if she cannot properly end academic selection she will simply create chaos both by incompetent inaction and indeed incompetent action. Essentially an educational scorched earth policy. I see that the UUP are trying to remove Ruane’s power to decide on post primary education. This is an interesting suggestion but I am most suspicious that the mutual veto will scupper such a plan.

Moving on to our next scorched earther: Poots. In his case I am yet again brought back to Hamlet. When Hamlet says “To be, or not to be, that is the question” some suggest that he is proposing suicide by doing nothing. Or to change to another analogy Poots seems a little like a latter day Diogenes making a virtue of sitting in Stormont doing nothing regarding the Irish language, the Maze etc. Of course unlike Diogenes, Poots does not live in a tub, seems disinclined to wander about with a lamp in broad daylight and does not do too many mad things in public though Pete Baker might disagree on that last one.

The problem of course is that Poots has been put in the Department of Culture to do precisely nothing: nothing about the Irish language and nothing about the stadium. If he wanted the Maze he would have to have the shrine or SF would veto the whole idea. The other possible venues are also very likely to be vetoed. I suppose the DUP’s worry was that if SF had had culture they might have pushed the Irish language via ministerial guidance, hence, by passing the veto. As such Poots has to sit doing nothing about these issues and getting frequent abuse for his trouble.

These two ministers demonstrate in stark relief the abject idiocy of our mechanism of government. Due to the mutual veto any controversial constructive action can be vetoed. (By constructive here I merely mean an active change introducing something new.) What cannot be vetoed is a destructive or negative controversial action. Hence, whilst Ruane can end the 11 plus she cannot produce anything new (even if she were personally capable of such a thing). Poots can stop the Maze or the ILA but cannot produce anything positive lest it be vetoed.

In his recent speech to QUB Democratic Unionist Association Robinson claimed that “…it is the Executive which is in charge not disparate ministers acting to their own narrow party political agenda.” He is of course half correct. Individual ministers cannot start new projects and proposals without executive approval. They can, however, as Ruane (and previously Ritchie) have shown stop things without executive approval.

So as long as the DUP is prepared to stop things and prevent things then they may be relatively content. However, if they do have positive ideas regarding the future they will only be able to enact them with the help of SF. That help will of course come at a very considerable price. Robinson knows full well that his own party’s political agenda is just as impossible to advance without SF’s help as SF’s is without his help. This then is one of the fundamental problems of the current system of government. Unlike most coalitions we do not have true cabinet government, and the parties are so divergent in their aims that expecting this to be “one of the most governments anywhere” is just silly.

I know that the DUP have previously intimated that they would like to see the situation changed and these issues addressed; I am inclined to believe them. Again, however, due to the nature of the veto and the mandatory coalition, I do not think this is possible.

  • Garibaldy

    Of course when the Russians do this it leads to ultimate victory. Let’s hope that’s not the case here.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The UUP move sounds like a stunt. Can the assembly revoke the executive powers of any minister, surely these are defined in the Northern Ireland Act ?

  • DC

    Well in regards to education Turgon to be more precise the DUP are culpable for beginning scorched earth back at the time the first ever executive convened.

    It was that first executive that allowed McGuinness to propose changes to post-primary selection, if the DUP hadn’t been messing about by point-scoring over peace-processing then perhaps things may well have been very different.

    The DUP seem keen to forget about their immature role back then just like they seem very keen to forget the GFA even though both acts still hangover the executive today; and alas the impacts are felt quite sorely.

    DUP twice over have left education, so in may ways the DUP passed the flame thrower and well…Caitriona is out there now scorching.

    ———————–Back in 1999—————

    Mr P Robinson:

    May I very briefly set the context which allows me to respond positively to your enquiry about my willingness to take office. Everyone here knows that I am one of the sternest opponents of the Belfast Agreement. I have consistently maintained that the purpose and the objective of the agreement is to have Northern Ireland absorbed into a united Ireland through developing all-Ireland institutions. I still believe that to be the process underlying it. Whether a Member or a Minister, as a convinced Unionist I shall use every ounce of the influence I possess to frustrate and thwart Northern Ireland’s being conveyed into a united Ireland.

    My position, in relation to both the release of paramilitary prisoners and the destruction of the RUC through the apparatus devised by the Belfast Agreement, is on public record and is unchanged. Moreover, it remains for me a fundamental principle that only those who are committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means are suitable partners in government. The call of my conscience and the commitments I have given to the people of Northern Ireland are unalterable. I oppose terrorism in all its forms and of every shade. Whether it be the murder of a friend or that of an odious adversary, I oppose it without qualification and without any mental reservation.

    As far as my conduct as a prospective Minister may be an issue, I want to place firmly on the record my intention and disposition to be scrupulously fair in every respect, while exercising such responsibilities as may be in my charge. The religious conviction or political opinion of any person or group will form no part of the judgement I will make on any matter. I shall work for everyone in this community seeking for them a better deal. I consider myself to be the servant of all and master of none.

    I accept the nomination and affirm the Pledge of Office as set out in schedule 4 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

    5.45 pm

    The Initial Presiding Officer:

    Mr Peter Robinson is now Minister (Designate) for Regional Development.

    I call on Mr Gerry Adams, as nominating officer of the political party for which the formula laid down in Standing Orders gives the next highest figure, to select a ministerial portfolio and to nominate a person to hold it who is a member of Sinn Féin and of the Assembly.

    Mr Adams:

    Ainmním Máirtín MacAonghusa mar Aire Oideachais. I nominate Mr Martin McGuinness as Minister of Education.

  • Pancho’s Horse

    site not working?

  • joeCanuck

    You’ve well and truly whacked that ugly nail, Turgon.