Paul Butler believes that some figures in the mainstream media have been agitating to get rid of Catriona Ruane as Education minister. Well certainly Alex Kane did not pull any punches in the Newsletter this week:
How thoroughly, fundamentally, demonstrably and serially incompetent must a Minister be before Executive colleagues, departmental committee members and MLAs collectively, round upon them and hound them from office? I only ask, because Caitriona Ruane—whose level of ineptitude appears to be incalculable—remains in a job at which she has proved herself utterly unsuitable. And its not just the fact that the scale of her uselessness is of epic proportions; its also the fact that every question or criticism is greeted with an arrogant disdain or a patronising putdown.
At the same time Kane is hardly a mainstream media figure. At the news, as opposed to the comment end of the industry, the party put on an extremely bizarre show at Stormont today when it called a number very senior members of the local press corps to tell them, well, that she had finally finished her consultation and would be announcing it on the 15th. The irritation and bemusement was obvious amongst some.
What does not seem to have dawned on the Minister or her party is that its credibility on this issue is diminishing week by week. Last Thursday John O’Dowd told The Politics Show that the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe had pulled the Catholic Grammar’s back into line and that the vast majority of Northern Ireland schools would back the Minister’s proposals. The Minister herself was confident that the schools were behind her.
Then as Fair Deal reports today, 2/3 of school principals have no confidence in the Minister. Nearly half of Catholic school heads don’t either.
There is no doubt the minister has been under the cosh from the outset. But this is final proof that there is considerable unease within the system about the way she has handled her brief. Mr Butler’s defence, ie that “some of these want to protect the privileges they gained through the old system; and others are political opponents being entirely opportunistic. We want this process of change to be as smooth as possible but equally, we are prepared for a battle.”
Sinn Fein is right to look for fights. They are a political party with a point to prove to their own base. But let’s be clear. This is not a fight with the media. It is also with the very people who’s good will is crucial to carrying forward the reforms his party believe are so crucial for the future wellbeing of education in Northern Ireland.
Furthermore, it is not a fight they can convincingly win….
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty