Stormont Spin Watch: who exactly is “protesting too much”?

This may be exceedingly tedious compared to what’s happening out there in the big bad world, but someone’s got to do it. This afternoon Ian Paisley Junior has lambasted Margaret Ritchie. Here’s the cleverly (too cleverly) worded Presser:

Mr. Paisley compared the comments of Ms. Ritchie with the SDLP’s Older Persons Spokeswoman Mary Bradley who said concerning the announcement regarding fuel poverty:

“This is good news for 100,000 households and I hope it will help take some pressure off the most vulnerable at this difficult financial time.”

Speaking today Ian Paisley Junior said:

“It is for Margaret Ritchie to explain the dichotomy of her party colleague welcoming the Monitoring Round whilst she seeks to denigrate it.”

Hmmm, Notice the shift from fuel poverty to whole Departmental Heist Monitoring Round? This is what the Minister had to say yesterday:

“First of all Jim I would like to welcome the £15 million for the fuel poverty initiative. Away back in May I anticipated the crisis. I set up the fuel poverty task force. I presented proposals to my Executive colleagues. Sadly there were no Executive meetings for 150 days. If there had been, these proposals would have been through we would have had legislation in place; payments being made. In that respect I am glad that at last my proposals have been accepted, and those people in receipt of income support and pensions credit will start to get benefit early in the New Year.”

You can see the rest of her interview here:

Hmmm… it’s not the first time that members of the Executive have allowed matters to become vague and curiously unproductive for the SDLP’s only Minister in the Executive.

In effect, the Minister has just lost control of a nice little PR gig (that was nevertheless integral to the provenance of her department) to the growing and increasingly amorphous power of the one department at the centre of government that appears to count: the joint office for the protection of local interest the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

So, remind me again why we have a legislative Assembly and a de Hondt mechanism for deciding who the scapegoats will be controls Ministerial departments/budgets?

Or was this simply Robo’s rather heavy handed revenge for CTI (Part One)?

  • 6countyprod

    The SDLP is merely trying to draw attention to itself, and get a little dig at SF, but in doing so it only reinforces the impression of SDLP sour grapes and duplicity.

  • autocue

    She’s hacked off because Dodds went further than she would have with the fuel poverty stuff and also because he got the associated press for doing so.

  • autocue

    You really should have covered the substance of what I P Jr. said:

    “References to “smash and grab”, paints entirely the wrong impression. DSD, her department volunteered £39million for re-allocation, because it hadn’t been spent or earmarked for any priorities. To listen to Margaret Ritchie complain you’d think it was her money people were discussing and not the tax-payers.

    She cannot simply stamp her feet and complain that she isn’t allowed to hoard some £30million that she hadn’t spent or allocated when it could be used to help those suffering at this difficult time. If the Executive had heeded her call and allowed her to retain this unallocated and unspent money, it would have severely diminished the capacity of the Monitoring Round to impact in the positive way it has. To accede to her demands would have been tantamount to creating a DSD Slush Fund.

    It is unfortunate that Margaret Ritchie has chosen to break with the consensus that the content of yesterday’s Monitoring Round was positive news for the people of Northern Ireland. Not only has the Minister broken ranks with her own party colleagues she has also broken ranks with herself because she voted for the contents of the Monitoring Round at the Northern Ireland Executive. It takes a rare political talent to adopt two different policy positions at the same time and argue them with conviction!”

  • I think there is some serious bullying going on here and Margaret Ritchie has been getting it because she comes from a background that does not endorse psramilitarism or its remnants.

    I think that that’s the type of hollow thug you get in the DUP and SF, and it’s sad for the poor, who they say they represent.

    But Margaret Ritchie is right. The Peter Robinsons and Nigel Dodds of this world are pretty charmless.

  • 6countyprod

    John, I watched Ms Ritchie on the news today, and as she whined on and on I said to my wife: Where does the SDLP find these people?

    She is out of her depth. If she can’t stand the heat, she knows what she needs to do.

  • Pancho’s Horse

    Would you listen to her! ‘My money’ and ‘my budget’ and ‘robbed’All those bad men picking on a poor defenceless woman. And this is the cutting edge of the SDLP.

  • ??

    I think there is some serious bullying going on here and Margaret Ritchie has been getting it because she comes from a background that does not endorse psramilitarism or its remnants. ………..

    is that why the SDLP on each occasion in the past refused to back motions to exclude sf from the assembly.

  • runciter

    It is unfortunate that Margaret Ritchie has chosen to break with the consensus


    I think that most people would see that as a good thing.

  • 6countyprod

    You make my point for me with your nom de guerre.

    You simply lack empathy for someone who most people will see was trying to do the job she was elected to do. It is your lack of empathy that is the problem not Ms Ritchie’s suitability to be a minister.

    Why is it that “Prods” like you have no social conscience, which might give you some desire to have empathy with the minister. You can’t all be so distant from Christianity.

    Pancho’s Horse

    Nobody gets killed when we fight like that. When the DUP fought Sinn Fein during the Troubles many died because they were unable to cope with a strategy that involved thinking on your feet. It’s called using embarrassment and you’ll find that it is the basis of Christisanity, first used by Christ on the cross. That big evil empire and the wicked Jews who give poor wee Jesus over.

  • Mick Fealty

    Weak stuff lads. Ms Ritchie is a big girl, and well able to fight her own fights. But it seems fairly clear what actually happened here.

    She won the argument over the money, so OFMDFM took the budget as punishment. They’re big boys too. Nothing illegal here, just a piece of base party politics.

    And the sleight of hand in the presser isn’t so slight…

  • crownesq

    You all miss the point – she is being shafted as part of a bigger battle. The bid money for social housing she submitted was completely buried by the DFP and the outworkings will be no new houses for those in need and the construction industry will suffer – watch this space.

    What is the secret plan that the DUP has hatched to run the country – de hondt is failing

  • 6countyprod


    I’m don’t quite get the ‘Christianity’ stuff you are trying to bring in. Things of Church and state should be kept separate. Render unto Caesar, and all that…

    As for social conscience, did Doddsy not do more for those in need than what MR had originally asked for? That’s called ‘going the second mile’, in Paisley parlance.

    I have nothing personal against MR, I’m sure she is a lady. All I am saying is, if the SDLP want to regain the respect and support that they once enjoyed, they are going to have to do a lot better than this.

    nom de guerre – that’s funny, just a nom de plume.

  • If Margaret Ritchie is “out of her depth” she managed to divert the sheen away from the SF/DUP attempted press coup on the fuel poverty package. Not once did she criticise Sinn Fein on the radio this morning and yet Martin McGuinness spent most of his interview about the banks meeting talking about her. In the course of which he made some hillariously daft claims about Caitriona Ruane. See more on my blog post

  • 6countyprod

    Good point. I’ll humbly tiptoe out of this. Way to go MR!

  • 6countyprod

    I would have thought that nom de guerre would have been more apt.

    A social conscience doesn’t mean doling out money. It means having empathy for other human beings. Money being doled out might result from having it but the bullying going on with Margaret Ritchie is reprehensible.

  • matchoman


    I tend to agree with you, MR is very able and so are the SDLP as they have taken the shine off of the executive not once but twice in as many days.

    McGuinness did sound angry, after 5 months of suspension the best they can do is to steal Ritchies proposals – did they think no one would notice??

    And McGuinness did go on a lot about a ‘team’ – the SDLP aren’t buying it though.

  • Mark McGregor


    No offence but you and others are talking balls and, like Dodds pointed out to Ritchie, clearly have no idea of how governmental finance or a Monitoring round works.

    The Ministers review their actual budget and the basis for it’s allocation against if they have actually spent the budget against those areas.

    If they aren’t going to reach their budget levels within the terms of the PFG or Budget they then have to declare those monies in the monitoring round as unspent. All of them not just Ritchie (some can be imaginative in ensuring they are spent)

    They aren’t allowed to just keep them and then spend them on different, previously undeclared projects.

    All the monies then go into a central pool and each department bids for them to be allocated to projects they had not previously requested funding for.

    Ritichie didn’t have £30 million taken off her. She had £39 million she had requested for projects she didn’t deliver or had over estimated in her budget returned to the DFP.

    While it may be nice for the SDLP to claim she is getting shafted, anyone with the slightest understanding of what a Monitoring round is (and they’ve been going on since most of us were in short trousers) would realise it is just nonsense.

    It pains me to say it but the DUP are correct and Ritchie is spinning at the basest level – a hope that people won’t actually delve into the detail of her deceit.

    So who is protesting too much? The woman that doesn’t understand or is lying about how a monitoring round works.

  • Mark McGregor


    I’ll put this in the basest terms possible:

    At budget time –

    Ritchie asks for £10 to buy a burger and two chips.

    Gildernew asks for £10 to but a fish and a pie.

    Ritchie only gets a burger and one chip and has £2 left over.

    Gildernew gets her fish and pie and has no change.

    At the monitoring round Ritchie is allowed to just decide she’ll use the £2 for ice cream because she didn’t get the chip she had said she would.

    She puts the money back in the centre and she then asks for it to be reallocated for ice-cream and Gildernew gets a change to argue she would quite like the £2 for Yorkies.

  • Mark McGregor

    Sorry lost concentration there, last two paras should read

    At the monitoring round Ritchie isn’t allowed to just decide she’ll use the £2 for ice cream because she didn’t get the chip she had said she would.

    She puts the money back in the centre and she then asks for it to be reallocated for ice-cream and Gildernew gets a chance to argue she would quite like the £2 for Yorkies.

  • Mark McGregor

    And while I’m explaining the reasons for you all.

    Why did Gildernew get money for slurry tanks? Because she had to.

    She had previously expected this money to come from the sale of the Plant Testing station at Crossnacrevy to developers – a plan that went tits up because of the hosusing market crash and the fact the land wasn’t and couldn’t be zoned for development.

    So she was left with a massive whole in her budget.

    But slurry tanks are a requirement under the EU nitrates directive and if they aren’t provided there will be a series of EU court cases and fines levied against the Assembly.

    So Dodds had to dig her out of that hole due to fear of Europe.

    Though of course because no one gives the slightest attention to how Europe impacts on lives, the media misses how it had a major impact on the monitoring round.

  • Pancho’s Horse

    I know this has been raised before, but, is there more than one John O’Connell. No one single person could contain that amount of sh*t. And Micheál, you may have gathered by now that not all of us share your scarcely concealed adulation of the stoops.

  • 6countyprod

    One definition says that having a social conscience leads one to uphold such values as truth-telling, defending minority rights, reconciliation and integrity in government.

    Thomas Jefferson said “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.”

    I suppose some look on it a little differently. The cartoon says it all. A finance lady on TV pointing to a graph states: Today, a downturn in ‘social conscience’ stocks on news that ‘nice guys finish last’.

    MR’s political posturing does not require my empathy. Politics is a lot about perception. Redundant whingeing and complaining brings its own rewards.

  • Pancho’s Horse

    It’s hard to accept defeat somtimes, but there is only one me in this realm.

  • Pancho’s Horse

    For that,Dear Lord, let us give thanks.

  • Mick Fealty


    You don’t show round here much, but when you do would you mind trying to play the ball?

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks for that Mark… I stand corrected… and slightly red faced…

  • matchoman

    Mark McG

    Rant much??

    BTW it’s quite clear from your fish and chip obsessed rant that you have no idea what you are talking about.

    Ritchies budget was raided because a) Robinson wants to punish her for standing up to the UDA and making him and SF look like fools because they wouln’t be controlling her, b) to demonstrate that they will try to control her and c) to aid SF in the carve up that is the Executive.

    Do you honestly think that with a department that covers housing, community groups, social security, neighbourhood renewal, that the money could not have been spent before April – grow up!!

    She done the smart thing – it’s winter, many Housing Executive homes need repair work, as required she sought permission to move the money to housing. Dodds told her no and took the money, perhaps it could be described as ‘snatched’ the money?

    She exposed them.

    So please, spare use your ill informed and misdirected rant.

  • Deccy

    I have no sympathy for Ritchie and she is playing a cynical game here. I have no love for sinnfein but when maskey raised a motion about a social scheme in the markets recently Minister Ritchie said that every time she saw Alex Maskey she thought about Robert McCartney and his children. It wasn’t out of sympathy for the McCartney family, which she may have, but it was used to attack a political opponent and deflect attention away from herself. It was well out of order.
    In your opinion Mick would you not say that she played the man and not the ball?

    Anyhow shes a big girl and she deserves no sympathy on this one. If it was a SF or DUP Minister the media’s attiutude would not have been as sympathetic as it is a case of handing money back which she couldn’t spend.

    BY the way did you she her Xmas card?!! Who does she think she is, the Virgin Mary?!

  • William

    Mark …… Pushing the Sinn Fein / IRA line again are you??? The situation concerning Margaret Ritchie is very simple…no need for scenarios…..she put £39m into the pot and requested that the total amount be redistributed within her department [change of budget headings to use the language of the community sector]…the bullies [DUPes and Shinners] only allocated her £9m….she protested but to no avail…in other words she had £30m taken away from her, that had been earmarked for refurbishing Housing Executive houses and new buildings by a number of Housing Associations. Reg Empey put in £28m and didn’t receive any money at all. I have no doubt Margaret Ritchie has a clear knowledge of how the monitoring round works but wished to retain the money but reallocate it within her department.
    Another question arises; Why did that personality by-pass merchant Dodds announced the £15m for those on Income support….that is the remit of the DSD Minister, Margaret Ritchie, not him. His role is merely to allocate her department the money. Another example of the bullying from the two ‘major ‘ parties.

  • Mark McGregor


    You almost get it. She puts it back in the pot because she didn’t spend it against what she had claimed it for.

    It wasn’t her or DSD’s money – it was allocated by DFD and the budget on criteria she didn’t meet.

    didn’t spend it – like every other department she has to put it back in the pot and then bid again on the basis of the new projects she is suggesting.

    This is government for idiots sold by bias. Doesn’t wash with me – Gildrenew had the strongest case for unspent funds as she had fucked up her budget and was legally obliged to deliver on nitrates.

    Party politics and wishlists didn’t matter.

  • The Spectator

    Guys, might i also point out, that, not for the first time – Wee Magiie is sailing pretty close to wind on the Ministerial Code?

    From the Pledge of Office, Para 1.4 of the Ministerial Code-

    “1.4 Under the Belfast Agreement and under sections 16, 18 and 19 of the Act, it is a condition of appointment that Ministers of the Northern Ireland Assembly, including the First Minister and the deputy First Minister and junior Ministers, affirm the terms of the following Pledge of Office…
    (f) to support, and to act in accordance with, all decisions of the Executive Committee and Assembly. (my emphasis)”

    Now did what Margaret did look like support?

  • William

    Mark…yes Gildernew like her colleague, the Ruanator are out of their depth….the former, more so….she hasn’t got a clue and like the Ruanator was ministering by proxy for quite a while…never near the office, but at least she had an excuse – she had a child and was on maternity leave.

    She messed up with the sale of the Hillsborough lands not going ahead [as you have indicated already] and was again ‘up the pole’ re the Euro nitrates legislation so I don’t disagree with you. However, I worked until a few months ago in Urban redevelopment and know that the £30m would have been spent by the end of March 2009…there are numerous refurbishment programmes awaiting funding and new building programmes by Housing Associations, which will not now go ahead. That would have really helped the construction sector, rather than building slurry tanks on farms, the majority of which are not built but assembled having been imported from Sweden and elsewhere.

  • Dave

    “Ritchie asks for £10 to buy a burger and two chips.” – Mark McGregor

    I’m not surprised that she could only afford one burger at those prices.

    According to your explanation of how the Monitoring Round procedure works, it looks like she is relying on its public obscurity to cynically propagate a narrative that depicts the SDLP as the defiant victim of bullying by the two larger (Mafioso) parties.

  • William

    Hi Spectator…..Based on that paragraph of the Ministerial Code, Connor Murphy and the Ruanator would both have been excluded from the Executive ages ago.

    Murphy, you may recall agreed a brochure for his department, then took it back to the office to ‘Oirish’ it by changing Northern Ireland to ‘the North’ [obviously Inishowen] and change the proper name of Londonderry to Derry, whilst the Ruanator as totally ignored everyone in relation post primary education provision. And McGuinness on Radio Ulster and Foyle referred to the Ruanator as a ‘team player’…..thank God she was playing for Crossmaglen or they wouldn’t have won the tournament the other day.

  • Wm

    Typo: Should read: Than God she wasn’t…..


  • Mick Fealty


    Personal sympathy was something PH raised and has no place in this or any other discussion on Slugger. I don’t care what anyone feels about the Minister concerned; so long as we get to talk about the issues.

    So far we have:

    – Minister flying close to the edge of the Ministerial Pledge

    – The executive needing that money for Agriculture to cover itself with Europe.

    – Plus Mark’s outline of the way the Monitoring Round works: ie the Minister loses control when she puts it back in the budget

    On the Ministerial Code, that is a legitimate concern. And I am not surprised that the FM is so concerned to push it home. Although there has been a rather short and inglorious tradition of information known to Ministers finding its way back to backbenchers and then used in attack on Ministers from rival parties.

    Although we still don’t have a contending story for why they took that winter fuel pot under their control if not for PR purposes (which is where we and the Presser came in).

    Any more for any more…

  • Pancho’s Horse

    Thank you, Micheál. I am suitably chastened. I read Slugger every day but needing 8+ hours sleep and trying to hold down a job, it is hard to find time to comment on everything. Only misinformation and John O’Connell raises my ire. And my, aren’t you prickly?

  • PH

    That’s good to know.

  • salem

    Spectator – would you wish that the minister should rubber stamp anything that DUP and Sinn fein force through the executive ? Hows about the Water Rates or Post Primary Education change – or god forbid we get tax variation would you be happy to see her agree with higher rates or taxes ??

    It is clear that this is now become a farce in the executive – it is a two party power tea party. You’re either with us or against us.

    Lest we forgot the chief whip for the sinners was on Nolan lambasting Margaret Ritchie for demanding action on HER fuel poverty paper ! Then less than a week later they are standing up in the Assembly claiming it as they own!!

    Minister Ritchie deserves the support of the executive but she is treated with distain and scorn – why because she chooses to disagree with the DUP/SF mandate that they want to push through.

  • austin

    Clearly Ritchie has failed in the key element of her stewardship of the DSD Budget,namely to protect her housing allocation. She’s been out-manouvered and should walk as she is not up to the job of reducing housing waiting lists through the creation of social new-build.

  • Austin

    I think you might be a Shinner. Do you care to comment?

  • The Spectator

    “Spectator – would you wish that the minister should rubber stamp anything that DUP and Sinn fein force through the executive ?”

    I don’t wish anything, I’m just providing information.

    In a ‘normal democracy’, cabinets are collegiate, and operate by cabinet responsibility- – go off the reservation and the PM sacks you, no comeback.

    Since NI has no such convention, the DUP attempted, semi-successfully, to embed it legally in sections 20, 28A of the NI Act 1998 and the Pledge of Office/Ministerial Code (the former is a portion of the latter). What Maggie seems to miss is that she is not supposed to be a private fiefdom, she’s supposed to be part of a single government. If she doesn’t like it, the proper thing to do is resign. By breaching the code, she’s leaving herself open to being pushed.

    In other countries, ministers operate only at the whim of the PM – Robbo is simply letting Maggie know, it’s that way here too.

    “Hows about the Water Rates or Post Primary Education change – or god forbid we get tax variation would you be happy to see her agree with higher rates or taxes ??”

    I don’t care if he agrees or not. I’m not interested in her politics, I’m discussing her constitutional position. You might think your political views, and the extent to which they mirror Maggie’s, are more important than the law of the land. I don’t. As the song might have gone, if Maggie fought the law, the law won. And that applies to all the parties.

    p.s. Conor and Catriona may have “gone rogue” a few times, but they haven’t defied or refused to support an explicit decision of the Executive, because as part of SF, they can stop any such decision happening – so they are in a different position, and not necessarily in Breach of the Code.

    “Minister Ritchie deserves the support of the executive

    What, They have to support her, but she doesn’t have to support them? Hypocrisy much?

    “but she is treated with distain and scorn – why because she chooses to disagree with the DUP/SF mandate that they want to push through.”

    Yep, that’s what happens when you lose elections. Frankly in NI, the new test of having won an Assembly election is can you get the three votes in the Executive to block anything you don’t wat – SF and DUP won, UUP, SDLP and the rest lost. Simple as.

  • austin

    Ritchie has deservedly won plaudits in Downpatrick for her sterling constituency service. However she is patently out of her depth at ministerial level as the last few days’ events have shown. On a local constituency level, how can Ritchie harangue the Housing Executive for not carrying out repairs when on her watch, she opened the trap door to allow 30 million quid to fall out of the housing budget’s door?

  • austin

    Ok. So you’re trying to disguise that you’re a Shinner.

    You’re engaged in a rather delayed attempt to smear Margaret Ritchie with incompetence. I think it is a matter of opinion but she really has demonstrated that the DUP/SF axis is cynical, bullying and incompetent.

    Not bad for an “incompetent” minister.

  • austin

    Indeed John-The Minister For Housing allows £30 million quid to be pinched from her housing budget-quite a success story…

  • austin

    I must get you to rob a few banks because clearly you don’t seem to be aware that the law favours the Banks and that you would be thrown into jail for doing it.

    I know you might not be caught but the DUP/SF axis were badly caught and all the spinning in the world won’t convince anyone that it is otherwise.

  • salem

    Specator – I can’t believe that you would argue about personal fiefdom? Please! Robinson, Castlereagh!

    Margaret Ritchie has had to fight tooth and nail to get extra money from the DUP Ministers.

    Conor and Catriona may have gone rogue – What are you kidding me? Gone native more like!!

    Talking of Hypocrisy take a look at those ministers. Sinn Fein and the DUP many have won in the elections but there are many within Northern Ireland who now regrets their decision.

  • runciter

    By breaching the code, she’s leaving herself open to being pushed.

    I don’t think even Team DUP are stupid enough to try that, but part of me hopes that they are.