The Slugger Awards 2008: Stormont Committee Chair of the Year

The next award is for all you dedicated Assembly watchers out there – Committee Chair of the year award. Even the most sceptical of the operation of the executive and the Assembly itself, have been known to mutter under their breathes in a begrudging manner, that the committee system has been working well.With a total of 17 (11 statutory and six non-statutory), most of the day-to-day work of the Assembly is done in Committees, with MLAs getting down to the business of shadowing government departments. Interestingly, the Assembly has the largest number of committee places when compared against committees in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Westminster.

Out of 108 MLAs, 94 are eligible to sit on 180 committee places (14 ministerial places are excluded from committee membership). This means that over 75% of MLAs sit on one or more committees whereas approximately only 60% of MPs sit on one committee.

Committee powers are relatively wide-ranging, they:

* Examine, debate and recommend changes to policies and decisions;
* Consider and advise on Departmental budgets and annual plans within the overall budget allocation;
* Approve relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee stage of relevant primary legislation;
* Scrutinise actions of Minister;
* Can call for persons and papers to advise and assist Ministers in forming policy;
* Consider and advise on matters referred to the Committee by its Minister;
* Initiate enquiries and publish reports; and
* Can introduce a Bill.

So, committees lie at the heart of the legislative process and often act as brokers between civil society and the government, particularly in their inquiry role – where else can our law makers hear from outside experts and practitioners in an open and transparent way, than in a recorded evidence session open to the public?

And that is one of the critical features of the committee system that we should remind ourselves of – a significant part of the business is conducted in open session and we as citizens have the right to sit in the public gallery and listen to the questions and debate – it my not be exciting, let’s face it, who expects the regulation of taxis bill or building regulations, to make great bed time reading, but MLAs should at least be acknowledged for this important work.

While most Committees have been meeting on Wednesdays and Thursdays, we should spare a thought for the unfortunate members of the Education Committee (in more ways than one perhaps?) who have given up a large portion of their constituency days to conduct their meetings on a Friday morning. However, the is light at the end of the tunnel with the recent announcement by new Committee Chair Mervyn Storey that the committee will meet on a Wednesday come the new term.

What we want to know is which committee chair has performed their parliamentary duties without fear or favour, as they say, in the first year of the Assembly?

Is it William McCrea who chairs the agriculture committee which has pushed ahead with their inquiry into renewable energy and alternative land use? Is it Barry McElduff who has managed to keep the culture, arts and leisure committee from spontaneously combusting (well at least some of the time) over the Maze/Long Kesh stadium site? Is it Danny Kennedy whose leadership on the issue of an enquiry in child poverty would not necessarily have reflected the interests of his traditional electoral base? Was John O’Dowd’s time at the helm of the Public Accounts Committee worth rewarding? What about Sammy in Education and Patsy McGlone in Environment?

There is a very clear role to be fulfilled by a committee chair – to ensure the smooth running of committees; facilitating engagement with interested outside parties in an open and constructive manner; holding both the relevant minister and officials to account as well as providing a forum for the development of policy and legislation.

Grandstanding, cheap political point scoring, soap boxing or committee meetings running way over time or away from the issue at hand, does nothing to instil confidence in the political system or enhance the democratic decision making process…so having outlined the rules of the game; the good and the bad, as well as throwing a few names into the ring (look at them as food for thought) it is over to you…..

Usual Slugger Award rules here – negativity gets deleted on sight.

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  • Blackmouth

    Sammy Wilson when he was the Chair of the Education Committee, by a country mile.

  • Mick Fealty

    Bm:

    Any specific reasons you can give us would be helpful.

  • Michael Shilliday

    I think that Danny Kennedy has done a good job on OFMDFM. It’s not an easy chair to have.

  • Mick Fealty

    Reasons guys, reasons?

  • Blackmouth

    He stood up to the minister on numerous occassions over policy, but also stood up for his committee when she refused to attend meetings to be cross-examined. Also showed real initiative in drafting and putting out for public consumption a proposed way out of the current impasse. Also, he’s one of the few politicians who comes accross as a human being!

  • RepublicanStones

    The Fujikura 2000 gets my vote, only criticism is it doesn’t come in green !

  • Damian O’Loan

    Danny Kennedy at COFMDFM. Balanced, but most importantly, he and his Committee have best protested at the deliberate failure of the department in question to provide relevant papers with reasonable advance.

    They also took a swift decision on the inquiry into child poverty, and his questionable humour keeps the tone constructive.

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    Oh, dear, dear. My, how sensitive we are! Negativity gets deleted, eh?

    What about an attitude that seeks to question? Is that “negative” too? What about an attitude that is “candid – and often critical” to use your own phrase? Will that be deleted, too?

    If you can dish it out you should be able to take it on the chin.

  • interested

    I do honestly think that Sammy Wilson has to be the main contender.

    The only Minister who has been under any real pressure since the Executive was established is Ruane, and whilst she can be her own worst enemy, there’s no doubt that her woes have been down in no small part to the role Sammy Wilson played as the Committee Chair.

    He managed to keep her under almost continual pressure whilst keeping on the right side of being seen to attack her simply because of her own political and social prejudices. Despite the Minister’s regular claims that all these nasty attacks were all because she was either a woman, a republican or there was a R in the month, her claims never really held water because it was clear that the Chairman was totally on top of the subject, and actually probably knew a lot more about the details than she did.

    To sum it up – none of the other Committee Chair’s managed to put the Minister under such pressure that they walked out of the Committee.

  • interested

    Apologies for the superfluous apostrophe in the last paragraph…. and in an education topic too!

    tut tut

  • Eddie

    I don’t like to hear about people getting their stuff deleted because they are deemed to be “negative.” You can’t have a proper discussion without SOMEBODY thinking SOMETHING is negative from their viewpoint.

    Keep it legal,keep it decent yes, but otherwise….it’s beginning to worry me.

  • kensei

    Is getting into a bitch fight with your minister really an example of an effective use of the a committee chair, though? It’s certainly visible, but as it actually moved on education policy, or produced better (any) legislation?

    Just throwing it out.

  • nineteensixtyseven

    Even for a political anorak such as myself this thread is a bit much!

  • RepublicanStones
  • “with the recent announcement by new Committee Chair Mervyn Storey”

    Mervyn has been taking a bit of stick recently for his ‘Young Earth’ science stance; two days ago he moved into Un Earth mode but it seems the DUP publicity machine can’t tell the difference between a magnate and a magnet 😉

    I’d also like to say a big thank you to the senior civil servant who changed his mind by treating my request for a ‘missing in action‘ on-line PDF file as normal business rather than an FOI one. [Apologies for glitch in the blog :(]

  • Struggling!

    How do people think Jeffrey performed as Chair of Assembly and Executive Review Committee?

    Are we excluding the Ad Hoc Committees?

  • DC

    Republicanstones, I prefer the more humble health committee chair, as vacated by Iris Robinson.

    http://tn3-2.deviantart.com/fs10/300W/i/2006/160/e/1/Empty_Chair_by_chrishon.jpg

  • Conquistador

    Sammy was good but his replacement is lacklustre. Sammy was pushing the right policies against a weak minister and did well on committees and in the media.

    The only other committee chair who received as mucha attention as Sammy was Iris, but her harassment of the gimp was so childish she had to get thrown out of Stormont. Cringe.

  • jacksayeraliveandwell

    danny kennedy has done well at OFM DFM, as has Fred Cobain with his dogged determination to go after NI Water! the only problem is that Fred can do nothing to stop those water bills landing on our doorsteps sometime soon…

    Sammy Wilson was a great education spokesperson for the DUP – he wiped the floor with the minister, but he was not a good committee chair if you go by the criteria outlined by Mick. He was too quick to grandstand and his domination of the committee didnt help meetings run well or enable other committee members to really contribute.

    Mitchel McLaughlin does a really professional job every week in DFP and has marked the minister and the department well.

  • o’malley

    Barry McElduff deserves a nomination for Culture Arts and Leisure. This committee has to deal with some of the most contentious and emotive political issues around and McElduff, manages to keep it going in a balanced and mostly good humoured way. What is interesting to watch is how the committee can move from really fraught exchanges, particularly between McCausland and Molloy, to a unified position of opposition to the IRFU

  • When left and right are wrong

    I find myself terribly conflicted when it comes to this catergory so in order to make my way out of a stalemate I have decided to nominate both Danny Kennedy and Barry MacElduff. Both do outstanding jobs at chairing their committees and set the bar incredibly high for others who occupy other top table seats.