“That’s all we’re doing..”

After the footballing visual metaphor BBC NI’s Politics Show got down to some post-match analysis. UUP leader Reg Empey returned to his criticism of an Executive with “no strategic overview” and identified “Sinn Féin’s classic tactic” of getting “a whole lot of issues together to do a package deal”. The DUP’s Simon Hamilton defended his party’s administering within the “indigenous deal” that is the Northern Ireland Executive and Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd, determined to avoid the v-word (veto) in the absence of Executive meetings, said that his party was trying to ensure that “the Executive meets on an agreed agenda” – which seems to translate as ‘agree to meet on our agenda or there will be no Executive meeting’. The devolution of policing and justice powers looms large in the discussion with implied references from John O’Dowd to the St Andrews Agreement’s deadline target date [What did the deputy First Minister say again? – Ed]. Towards the end there’s a quote from John O’Dowd worth pulling out [6min 10s in], “What we’re willing to do is to sit down with the DUP and enter serious discussions with them about it [policing and justice]. We haven’t had those serious discussions to date and I think that’s what’s missing out of this. We have had discussions, we have had meetings, but you see until you get down to hard-nosed negotiations then it’s all just optics. That’s all we’re doing.” Indeed.

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  • snaz

    Iam glad that Sir Reg is moving the Policing and Justice argument on beyond the ‘until public confidence exists’ utterings.

    Firstly there is no measurement of public confidence (a referendum would produce in my opinion a minimim of 65 percent opposed) and secondly its should be more about political maturity, ability and track record than a mere public confidence.

    Let Sinn Fein/DUP get on with dealing with ANY of the issues (in the first year what have they delivered on post primary education, Water Rates, National Stadium, fuel poverty, (they did accept an 11 Council model for local Government which 4 out of 5 of the parties had previously opposed)!

    So let the Commons and the Lords continue to deal with Law Making and Judicial appointments etc and maybe, though personally i dont think so, in 10 years time people will think that our politicians are sufficiently mature/legislatively proven, to actually maintain/sustain and improve what is widely ackowledged as one of the best criminal justice systems in the World!

  • Snaz,

    UUP being part and parcel of that same executive that has ‘in the first year what have they delivered on post primary education, Water Rates, National Stadium, fuel poverty, (they did accept an 11 Council model for local Government which 4 out of 5 of the parties had previously opposed)!’ surely is not in any way shape or form credible for long-term success.

    Every finger you point at the DUP/Sinn Fein carve up it embarrasses the the SDLP/UUP the most as they appear to be clinging to power when their mandate is so minimal. I’m glad to see Reg question the devolution of P & J powers, but all too often the UUP want to oppose or support the opposite of the DUP.

    The Ulster Unionists need to seriously consider the prospect of opposition and when they do so this time it should not be done by the Assembly Group, but by the newly reformed party executive which according to the UUP PR wing is representative and lively.

  • Smithsonian

    Even if all other parties voted against the DUP/
    SF axis, the combined opposition still wouldn’t have enough votes to stop anything.

    Going into opposition would be a high risk strategy, which might be misunderstood by the public and might even bring down the executive.

    Probably best to wait and see what the DUP/SF team can agree on before doing anything drastic.

    Ultimately of course, we need an opposition.

  • snaz

    The UUP Executive is the ultimate decision making body of the Party and any such decision would be theirs anyway.

    I think most people who value accountible democracy would agree that having a proper opposition would be preferable to all parties being in the Executive but i think that without legislation to give the opposition a proper political footing that it would simply be ignored/insulted by SF/DUP. We have already seen the outworkings of this within the Executive with the abuse meated out to Margaret Ritchie for her stand against UDA funding (Again forgotten about along with the abuse given to the UUP leader after he attempted to coopt the late David Irvine during Peter Robinsons new UVF ‘talks’ I find the hypoctisy unbelievable’).

    SF/DUP would have to vote for a legislative change to make an opposition have any power and i dont see these turkeys voting for Christmas (other than being seen as whingers) but perhaps that might be one of the things the UUP might consider if it regains the power to do so.

    I dont agree with you that the public will agree that the mutual vetos enjoyed by SF/DUP that are so often lauded by Slugger supporters of those two parties are anyone elses responsibility when it will soon become increasingly clear that mutual veto means nothing gets done and the understandable ‘dont rock the SF/DUP devolution boat’ media consensus is replaced by ‘dont tell us what you have stopped’ ‘tell us what you have achieved’

    Interesting and politically uncertain times ahead

  • E eye E eye yo

    Reg is trying to show the UUP is a force to be reckoned with but I believe if the UUP were offered the chair of P&J;they would break the DUP’s arm for it.Money and Power is the driving force in the Assembly now as you only have to look at the way Reg dealt with Billy Armstrong over his(no) planning issues and the salary paid to his wife and daughter to show that Reg must believes it is ok to break the law for his MLAs which makes Reg the ideal minister for P&J;. His silence on these matters is deafening.

  • Smithsonian,

    The opposition by definition does not in itself have the power to vote down a government; it scrutinises and highlights the deficiencies in government policy and uses that along with their own distinctive policies to convince the electorate to vote them in. This wait and see attitude is baffling, do you believe that the DUP/Sinn Fein are capable of governing? You rightly state that the UUP and SLP have been sidelined so I fail to see what will change a year down the line unless you are pushing for a unionist merger. I think clear blue water between the DUP and UUP is necessary.


    It was strange then that the party manifesto was never put to the executive in 2007 to be voted on or that the decision was made by the assembly group to stay in the NI executive – effectively bypassing the democratic party structures.

    In my opinion legislative change will come only if there is a demand for it. That demand has to be created. As I say a wait and see appraoch is baffling – for the UUP appear to be waiting for the DUP to drop the ball instead of positioning themselves to take advantage.

  • snaz

    Im not aware that any UUP MLA has ‘broken the law’ and i think it completly wrong to say something like this.(Billy Armstongs daughter does a very good job in his constituency office)

    In terms of the UUP accepting P and J if offered i would say.

    1. The UUP are completly opposed to the Devolution of P and J and so i believe are the vast majority of NI citizens.

    2. In the event that SF/DUP do a deal I could not think of safer NI hands to have it in than the UUP.

    A party that have consistently acted in the best interest of ALL our people as opposed to narrow interests.

    However the UUP would only be a figure head (in the current mutual veto set up) and to actually bring about legislative change would require SF/DUP MLAs to agree and with the evidence of the last year and a bit that prospect, compared to the Commons and the Lords, would mean that regardless of who the local minister was, the maturity and track record in comparison with our National Parliment would mean that we would be placing a vital component of every democracy in an unproven virgin regional parliament.

    As a Unionist I am happy to leave this in tried and trusted hands.

  • snaz

    There is certainly no ‘wait and see’ process and i dont know of any UUP policy to create one.

    The question is without creating a legislative opposition whilst handing every government department in NI to SF/DUP i dont think you would get the media/column inches to launch what you correctly described is needed namely scrutiny/viable alternatives.

    In future elections you could lose by 1 Seat and your entire voters wishes would be lost to a tiny minority government.

    We have a unique set of circumstances that have been manipulated from power sharing to mutual veto tribalism that is struggling to actually pass legislation.

    If the UUP/SDLP convinces the electrate as to the facts that the Chuckle Brothers simply masked an inability to actually do anything and that its only people who believe in REAL power sharing that can actually deliver agreed tangible benefits accros a range of issues that have nothing to do with the constitutional issue which faces its biggest threat from the SNP and not SF.

    In terms of UUP internal democracy anyone who complies with recently adopted standing orders can table anything at the UUP Executive.

    My personal view is that we promised the people in our manifesto we would také our seats and i would be hugely opposed to going into a formal opposition until we regain our position and legislate accordingly.

    Bring our positive views to the Executive table and highlight our disagreement with those that are ignored.

    P and J is a good example were the UUP can articulate what the average Unionist thinks namely why move such a vital department to an executive that hasnt reached agreement on anything of cross community consequence when you have the most replicated law makers in the world resident in your national parliment.

    As a Devolutionist this is one major issue we are just not politically mature enough for and im not convinced we EVER will be. (Sorry Gerry and Co)

  • cynic


    Putting “a whole lot of issues together to do a package deal” is probably good politics when you have a whole lot of issues to resolve

  • cynic

    “Ultimately of course, we need an opposition.”

    mmmm………………do we?

    The Executive isnt a political structure run on traditional lines. Its voting system demands a very high degree of concensus and is designed to promote co-operation among the two communities. In effect it recognises that the two opposites in the Assemby are the Unioinists and Nationalists. That’s all hard-wired into the system. In the absence of any real cross-community political alliance what would an opposition add?

    A bigger practical question is, why do we need so many parties? On a Nationalist front there is a clear political and ideological difference between SF and the SDLP. On the Unionist side the differences between the DUP and UU are minimal and the gap is more persoanlity driven. With Alliance, Gawd knows where they stand on most policy issues.

    In that context how do you form a viable opposition?

    The UU is a hollowed out shell. Give it 3 years and I will bet we will see a merger of the DUP and UU with a few on the wings of each sliding off to Jim Allister (if he’s still around) and Alliance, mainly not for policital reasons but becasue they couldnt bear to be in the same party as those awful other people.

  • E eye E eye yo

    If you erect buildings and office signs without planning permission then you have “broken the law”.Although Billy paid his wife rent for his portacabin and employs his wife and daughter I agree that this is not breaking the law but how does it look to the average ratepayer. Also the fact that Reg has left Billy on the environment committee shows that Reg is quite happy to allow his MLAs to break the law as in Billy’s case planning laws.It might also be worth checking if Billy has paid rates on his illegal office. So Snaz before you stand up for Reg and the UUP check your facts.

  • bob Wilson

    Snaz re opposition
    ‘to actually bring about legislative change would require SF/DUP MLAs to agree’
    Actually while it would be nice to get DUP/SF agreement the Westminster Parliament can legislate to give teeth to the opposition whenever it likes.
    Obviously Labour probably wont….