The striking thing about Peter Robinson’s welcome of the ‘putative’ PM (Gordon is gone now, in every sense that matters), was the statesman-like tone. (Bridges must be built! – ed). There has also been the promise of an end to the double jobbing betweem MLAs and MP jobs. Last summer, given the instability caused by Sinn Fein’s 154 lost days, he was reluctant to consider pushing it on his party colleagues. But the last 14 days have changed everything. Party sources say the change has been under consideration for months, but tonight in Bangor Robinson has announced a reshuffle of his Executive members so that the only MP left (presumably), will be the First Minister himself:
The practice of MPs also being Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive was never intended to be a long term arrangement but a necessary step to allow the institutions to bed down securely and to allow the next cadre of leadership to develop. I indicated, last June, when I appointed Ministers who were MPs that I would carry out a reshuffle in early autumn.
I believe that solid foundations have been laid and we have reached the period when the baton can pass to the next cohort.
Therefore tonight I want to announce that having taken the views of my Parliamentary colleagues it is my intention to announce changes to our Executive and Assembly team before the summer recess so that no more than one of my seven parliamentary colleagues who presently hold either a Ministerial position or Committee Chairmanship will continue to do so. This move is being done with their full agreement. The new team of Ministers and Committee Chairs will be briefed over the summer and be in place before the beginning of the Autumn term.
This is a necessary prelude to the ending of double jobbing. Several months ago I indicated that we would be phasing out dual mandates – I reinforced that message two weeks ago to a group of reporters and journalists. Tonight, I want to say more.
I have absolutely no doubt that at a time when the future of the Assembly was uncertain and when experienced leadership was required, it made sense for some of the representatives from the main parties to be both MPs and MLAs. It was essential to ensure the Assembly was established in the first place and it has allowed the Assembly to settle in. Just as important it has allowed other Assembly Members to develop. But again that was a short term expedient not a long term measure.
It is simply not possible to sustain and fully perform multiple roles whether they involve other elected positions or indeed interests outside Parliament. While at least for a time serving in more than one elected body could be justified on the basis of political stability, no such justification exists for those who seek to pursue interests outside of the House of Commons which are unrelated to the work of an elected representative. It would clearly be the height of hypocrisy to have one rule for one and not the other. The workload is too great and there are not enough hours in the day to do multiple jobs without health and other consequences.
It is not for me to decide whether colleagues choose Westminster or the Assembly. We will each announce our own decisions in the coming months after we consult with our constituency associations.
I am making these announcements tonight so that we are clear about the importance and priority I place on ensuring the success of the political process and delivering for the people of Northern Ireland. I expect other parties will want to set out their intentions to move in a similar direction.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty