The truth about side deals can’t be long delayed

While Eamonn hacks a way through the thickets of unionist electoral politics, I turn back to the aftermath of the P&J debate. Those UU claims of side deals Peter Robinson called “trash,” on parading, new north-south links, the Irish language etc., what’s keeping them or do they exist? Some of them may still remain hidden from the working parties on which the UUs and the SDLP have seats, so such side deals can’t remain secret for much longer. I mean, how can you have a side deal on parading? There is a basic truth in politics conspiracy theorists like to avoid, which is that on the record counts for more in the end. On working party progress, there was conflicting evidence in Tuesday’s debate. Peter Robinson said

“I have done all that I can to encourage the Ulster Unionist Party to support the motion.I entered the process of engagement with that party, both at Hillsborough Castle and afterwards, in good faith. I wanted that party to be fully involved, and, as a result of the Hillsborough Castle Agreement, Sir Reg Empey and Margaret Ritchie are now chairing an important Executive working group on the functioning of the Executive. Good work is being done by that working group.”

But Margaret Ritchie said on the contrary

“There is a parading working group, to which the SDLP and the UUP need not apply. Elected Ministers are not allowed to see any papers, but Sinn Féin is happy to share them with the Orange Order. The Executive function and delivery working group has four-party involvement, but, after six meetings, it is going nowhere fast. There is a St Andrews unfinished business working group and an Executive backlog working group, which is chaired by the DUP and Sinn Féin but struggles to make progress.”

Who’s right? But have you noticed, Robinson made a “four party coalition” offer to the UUs and the SDLP.

“We have not been able to reach all-party agreement on those matters as yet, but last night I offered Sir Reg tangible evidence of a four-party coalition and a public assurance that the DUP would not use its votes on the Executive to override the votes of any three Ministers if they wanted a matter to be further considered. That offer was made in the context of the UUP supporting the devolution of policing and justice, and I am disappointed that it does not appear that that will happen. Nonetheless, I am prepared to repeat that offer in circumstances in which the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP approach Executive business in good faith. Whatever the outcome of the vote today, we should not be distracted from doing what is right.”

Unctuous perhaps, but what was wrong with that Reg and Margaret – or were you listening? Margaret also said an agreed Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) document was due to emerge from FMDFM onThursday, when she was due to receive a copy. Did you get it Margaret and will you share it with us in the interests of transparency?

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

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