“that is a routine procedure that has already been used by the DUP”

In the Assembly on Monday, in response to a question from the DUP’s Trevor Clarke, the Northern Ireland Social Development Minister, the SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie, put forward a strong defence of her decision to cut funding to the UDA-linked CTI scheme in light of the recent High Court ruling. Focussing on the 3 of 4 parts of the ruling which addressed the stated concerns of the then NI Finance Minister and the internal legal advice from Senior Crown Counsel for Northern Ireland, Bernard McCloskey, the Minister also confirmed that she had sought “retrospective sanction” of her decision from the NI Executive but, despite public declarations of support, the Executive parties semi-detached polit-bureau refused to do so. Whether that sanction would have given the Minister complete legal cover in court isn’t entirely clear, but it would have given her legal team a much stronger hand to play with.

From Hansard

Mr T Clarke: What is the Minister’s assessment for the UK taxpayer after her Department lost a £300,000 legal case?

The Minister for Social Development: That is a ridiculous assertion. For the benefit of Members, let me put the record straight on that matter. First, I did not pursue any legal action. Secondly, we did not receive any bills or pay any costs. It is worth recapping on the fact that the judgement supported me on three of the four counts.

Let us look at those counts. The first was that I did not consult adequately — the judge threw that out; the second was that I had already made up my mind about cutting the funding — the judge threw that out; the third was that I had no right to terminate the contract over UDA behaviour — the judge threw that out. Therefore, I make the point again that the court supported my position on all the substantial issues. The court found an error in procedure on the ministerial code point. I was aware of that potential procedural problem and sought the cure, that is, retrospective Executive approval of the decision. In fact, that is a routine procedure that has already been used by the DUP. However, when I asked for retrospective sanction, the Executive refused it.

I have heard some politicians, including ministerial colleagues, peddle the accusation that is being made here today, but such cheap shots diminish not only those who make them but the offices that they hold. The costs incurred in this case are far more a consequence of Executive decisions than of any action on my part.

I would also like to point out that the Independent Monitoring Commission published its latest report last week, and, yet again, it referred to UDA criminality and to the fact that there had been no decommissioning. Therefore, in the broadest sense, I was right all along. My decision was right then, and it is still right now.

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  • Dev

    Completely agree with her response. She has the support of the public, who don’t want to see UDA funding. Unfortunately her Executive colleagues failed her.
    She’s one of the few Ministers actually doing the job properly.

  • Expenses111

    Dev,

    Her department is in a mess. She promised new homes. She cant deliver. Now she is promising refurbished homes. 6 months time we will see her nn delivery again

  • John O’Connell

    E111

    But she’s never glassed anyone.

  • John O’Connell

    Fair play to Margaret for clarifying what would otherwise have been a disaster for her department. Clearly the dept of FMDFM should pick up the tab for the legal case. Or what about Robbo paying for it out of the £500,000 his family get.

  • Mick Fealty

    I’m thinking of introducing a be aware of hacks gif in the new commenting system. Something like this at the top of each offending post:

    +++ HACK WARNING +++ HACK WARNING +++ HACK WARNING +++

    This story has little baring on the overall competence of the Minister in doing her job, in trying to represent it as such you do the rest of us who are more interested in the reality of how we are ‘governed’ than whose winning the spin war a disservice.

    Rather it is not the Minister, but it is the Executive and the Legal Counsel for the Northern Ireland Adminstration (who’s advice seems to have been proven largely erroneous) who have some very very awkward questions to answer.

  • joeCanuck

    Ms. Ritchie is totally correct in her assessment and she tried to do the right thing.

  • fair_deal

    “it is the Executive and the Legal Counsel for the Northern Ireland Adminstration (who’s advice seems to have been proven largely erroneous) who have some very very awkward questions to answer. ”

    What were the errors in his legal advice?

  • Expenses111

    JOC

    Grow up.

    JoeCanuck
    She did try to do the right thing but surely you need to do everything right. Anyone else would be embarrassed about this.

  • Expenses111

    JOC

    Where were you canvassing the last couple of days? Still trying to believe that the SDLP is still a force to be reckoned with!!

  • Mick Fealty

    fd,

    let me dig a little and get back to you on that…

  • fair_deal

    Pete

    “that is a routine procedure that has already been used by the DUP”

    Would you outline the other occasions this procedure has been followed? Secondly in how many of those occasions had there been a prior Executive discussion with a decision on how to proceed that the minister then failed to implement?

  • Pete Baker

    fd

    You’ll have to ask the Minister, or someone else in the Executive.

    The post’s title is, after all, a quote.

  • fair_deal

    Pete

    “The post’s title is, after all, a quote.”

    True but it is something that you argue would have “it would have given her legal team a much stronger hand to play with.”

    Is there not a contradiction in complaining of a semi-detached polit-bureau but not a minister behaving in the self same manner?

  • Pete Baker

    fd

    The “retrospective sanction” from the Executive “would have given her legal team a stronger hand”.

    You’re not arguing that it wouldn’t, are you?

    And as I also pointed out,

    “Whether that sanction would have given the Minister complete legal cover in court isn’t entirely clear”

    But, as the High Court ruling pointed out, the Minister had the power to make the decision.

  • fair_deal

    “You’re not arguing that it wouldn’t, are you?”

    The decision was ruled unlawful because of the failure to follow the agreed procedures, would have a retrospective approval of procedural breaches been enough? Would it be a sensible course of action for the Executive to deal with breaches in this way?

    “But, as the High Court ruling pointed out, the Minister had the power to make the decision.”

    Spin of the judge’s comments on the issue of irrelevancy and public interest and a bit of misrepresentation of the five grounds cited in the amended application for a review.

    I repeat my second question. Is there not a contradiction in complaining of a semi-detached polit-bureau but not a minister behaving in the self same manner?

  • ABC

    Come, come Fair Deal, don’t take Pete out of his cosy comfort zone! Bad boy!

  • Pete Baker

    “Spin of the judge’s comments..”

    The judges comments on those points, and on the areas of concern raised by the then Finance Minister, and those raised in the reported legal advice from Senior Crown Counsel, are linked in the original post.

    As for your second question.. clearly I don’t agree with the premise of that question.

  • fair_deal

    Pete

    Thank you but I don’t need a link I have already read the judgement and have a hard copy.

    If my premise is incorrect how would you characterise her failure to abide by the Executive’s agreed position (as accepted by the judge) and breach of the ministerial code (as ruled by the judge)? Fully engaged?

  • Modernist

    What I read from Margarets comments is that either Sinn Féin or the DUP refused to assist her in cutting the funding to active loyalist terrorists and thats why the UDA are stil getting money. Or has anyone else, say yourself Fair Deal got more information that would indicate a different reasoning of her comments

  • fair_deal

    Modernist

    “either Sinn Féin or the DUP refused to assist her”

    They (or the UUP) never got the chance to refuse or approve. She decided not to wait two days for an Executive meeting and hadn’t complied with what the Exec agreed the procedure for handling the issue would be.

  • Pete Baker

    fd

    I think I see where the confusion lies.

    Semi-detached is a reference to the composition of that polit-bureau – with members from both within, and without, the Executive [at least].

    The operation of the polit-bureau does not, however, equate to any individual Minister going on a solo run against the wishes of the Executive.

    And now, I see, we’re some way from the starting point..

  • Modernist

    So Fair Deal if SF,UUP,DUP and SDLP all agreed to give the retrospective ok to Margarets actionscould the funding to the UDA have been cut?

  • Pete Baker

    Modernist

    I think that’s an unknown unknown..

  • mary savage

    while everyone loves wee Maggie lets face it she hands out a few pennies from the government in Westminster hmmmm for this we killed each other for 30 years still no socialhouses,no realassault on homelessness and of course the loyalists are armed to the teeth the king is dead etc etc

  • Modernist

    Pete I think its highly relevant to question which of the 3 parties refused to back up the SDLP on this matter. I distinctly remember the UUP taking a distant but supportive position on this issue at the time. I also remember Robo and Maguiness especially Robo making a stance of refusing to support Margaret Ritchie on the issue. From my view it would appear that either the DUP or Sinn Féin stepped in to maintain the funding, so one or both of the parties could have been responsible for the maintainance of funding the UDA. I must say my deduction is all hypothetical. I could be wrong. Perhaps an unknown unknown as you put it