DUP should submit new MLAs to the voters

In response to their election shock, the DUP’s double quick moves to ease themselves gently out of double jobbery ( but with the dynasties so far intact), are undemocratic. The Assembly rule allowing co-option rather than requiring a by-election if a seat is vacated, was created to avoid disturbing the party balance during the formative phase of the Assembly, when the loss of an MLA or two might have unraveled the whole deal. Far better these days if the DUP had had the guts to keep the double mandate for another year and, under a clean slate, for Assembly by elections for replacement MLAs to be held on the same day as the Westminster general election. A good principle of democracy is that politicians should be accountable for their mistakes to the voters. I’m subject to correction here, but I assume co-option also applies when the SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie gives up her council seat. The parties shouldn’t have it so easy. This smacks of the bad old days of the Stormont parliament, when many seats were often left uncontested and politics vegetated in semi-corrupt complacency. Has anybody got steamed up about this yet? I haven’t noticed. The DUP have got away with it this time. Let this be an end of it and let primary legislation be moved at Westminster after the election to introduce democratic norms – and while they’re at it, a smaller Assembly. That would set the calculators whizzing, to work out party gains and losses. BTW, I see the pressure mounting on Ian Og over his refusal to disclose the source of his claim that prison documents connected with the murder of Billy Wright had been destroyed. He contends that politicians should be recognised as being on a par with journalists, doctors and ministers of religion in claiming confidentiality. But he would, I suspect, (though I’m subject to correction here too) have been exempt from court action if he had spoken under privilege in the Assembly, even though the Assembly has no jurisdiction yet in this area – unlike Suzanne Breen who of course enjoys no such privilege. No doubt he sees a parallel with her case . Not that the normal recognition of journalist confidentiality adds up to anything like immunity, as the Breen case shows. Is Mr Paisley as sure of the accuracy of his claims as Ms Breen is of hers? And why can’t we be told whether nearly 6000 documents were destroyed or not? It seems a high number to go missing without trace.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London