“We are going to proceed with the Altnagelvin extension [] and that’s the end of the matter.”

The Northern Ireland First and deputy First Ministers’ separately declared commitment to reverse the NI Health Minister’s decision to postpone the funding of a new radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin hospital is yet another populist move without regard to budgetary considerations – this time just ahead of an election.

It also undermines the position of the smaller parties at the NI Executive table and the authority of the Executive itself.

From the BBC report

Mr Robinson said it could be overturned on the basis of a cross-community vote.

He said that under the ministerial code the Executive, not the Minister, has the final say.

“We are going to proceed with the Altnagelvin extension for cancer care and that’s the end of the matter,” he said.

“The Executive is able to take this decision and the SDLP, Sinn Fein, and the DUP have now all said that they will go ahead with this project,” he insisted.

Actually, the Assembly has the final say, but we know that OFMDFM don’t concern themselves too much with that either…  And there’s an assumption in the comments by the DUP leader of the election result.

As for the ministerial code, it does allow for the referral of any matter which

(vi)  is significant or controversial and which has been determined by the First Minister and deputy First Minister acting jointly to be a matter that should be considered by the Executive Committee; [added emphasis]

Including retrospective consideration.  But with “the end of the matter” already declared, there’s not much consideration required in this case…

Perhaps they could consider which of the capital projects the Health Minister did approve they would postpone instead?  From the Ministerial statement

Today I am announcing that, subject to normal business case processes, construction can start on the following high priority schemes:

  • The next phase of the Ulster Hospital Redevelopment which will replace the current Ward Block;
  • The new regional Maternity Hospital at the Royal;
  • The new enhanced local hospital at Omagh;
  • A new Acute Psychiatric Facility at the Belfast City Hospital;
  • A new A &E Department and Ward Accommodation at the Antrim Hospital;
  • New Operating Theatres at Craigavon Hospital;
  • and new Health and Care Centres in Ballymena and Banbridge.

And they’ve had plenty of time to invoke section 2.4(vi) of the ministerial code since the publication of the draft budgets spending plans in January.  The Health Minister highlighted the risk of delay to a number of major capital schemes, including the radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin, in the consultation document on his draft budget [pdf file].

But with an over-commitment of £240million already incorporated into the NI Executive’s final budget over the next four years, what’s another capital project or two?

Here’s one they might want to think about referring for consideration at the Executive Committee.

So much for the big incentive to learn how to govern…