“The deputy First Minister and I have agreed..”

How blatant is the attempted power grab by the semi-detached polit-bureau? Answer: Very. The explanatory notes of the Financial Assistance Bill, to be fast-tracked through the Northern Ireland Assembly tomorrow, may say “that the legislation would provide the necessary permissive powers to take remedial action in response to any circumstances that the Executive agrees warrants rapid and effective financial intervention.” But, as it stands, the detail in the Financial Assistance Bill itself reveals that the NI Executive will not need to be consulted in advance.

1. — (1) The powers conferred by this section are exercisable if the First Minister and deputy First Minister, acting jointly, determine :
(a) that exceptional circumstances exist,
(b) that it is desirable to provide financial assistance to prevent, control or mitigate any aspect or effect of those circumstances, and
(c) that such assistance ought to be provided in accordance with a scheme or schemes under this section.

Those powers will include the ability to designate a “relevant Department”, which may or may not be OFMDFM themselves, to make a scheme to provide financial assistance – the detail of which must in all circumstances be approved by OFMDFM. In his answers to questions in the Assembly today Northern Ireland First Minister, the DUP’s Peter Robinson, added that

“The deputy First Minister and I have agreed that there should be a change to the Ministerial code which would ensure that that all of the schemes that would flow from this legislation would go to the Executive and would need to be approved before the schemes would proceed.”

i.e. The NI Executive, where the semi-detached polit-bureau can carry any vote, would only need to be consulted at the end of the process – although that detail isn’t in the Bill either. Full supplementaries here.

In addition to the Exceptional Circumstances described in clause 1 of the Bill

Exceptional circumstances: power to provide financial assistance

1. — (1) The powers conferred by this section are exercisable if the First Minister and deputy First Minister, acting jointly, determine :

(a) that exceptional circumstances exist,

(b) that it is desirable to provide financial assistance to prevent, control or mitigate any aspect or effect of those circumstances, and

(c) that such assistance ought to be provided in accordance with a scheme or schemes under this section.

There is also clause 2

Unsatisfactory funding arrangements: power to provide financial assistance

2. — (1) The powers conferred by this section are exercisable if the First Minister and deputy First Minister, acting jointly, determine :

(a) that a situation exists which requires financial assistance to be provided to tackle poverty, social exclusion or patterns of deprivation based on objective need,

(b) that arrangements to provide such financial assistance are not in place, or that such arrangements as are in place for that purpose are, or are likely to be, ineffective, inadequate or for any other reason unsatisfactory, and

(c) that such assistance ought to be provided in accordance with a scheme or schemes under this section.