All change at the Executive today: Issues arising…

So we weren’t the only ones wrong footed by the parties’ choice of cabinet positions. Mark Devenport reports that Sinn Fein choosing DETI seems to have been just as much expected in Stormont as out in virtual world:

…it looks like the stalemate over academic selection will continue. I’m told that when Sinn Fein announced their choice it was greeted by the other parties with a stunned silence.

Sinn Fein’s decision to retain their nightmare portfolio in Education is the second time in a row that they’ve raised expectations they would take DETI, only to dash them. Yet, looked at with hindsight, you might better ask yourself why would they let anyone else come in and take the credit for clearing up their mess?

A case of hope, perhaps, hardening into expectation?

In the running of dHondt an unexpected choice early in the run can upset planned choices for other parties, freeing up portfolios they might not have expected to get, and having others snaffled that they’d been counting on.

Still, it looks like the UUP and the SDLP both get to cast off the shackles of the two big spending departments. Yet I suspect the DFP will now take a more sympathetic view of Health as well as having carte blanche to get the spending reforms Mr McGimpsey seemed reluctant to engage.

And they also have substantial control over housing. We might not expect a break in the deadlock over Girdwood Barracks site (that will depend on relations inside OFMDFM becoming a great deal more functional than heretofore.). There will almost certainly be housing built in other Unionist areas which feel the SDLP starved them of resources.

Whilst Sinn Fein keep Education they drop all responsibility for the future (and the past) of Northern Ireland Water as Regional Development passes over to the Ulster Unionist control. But they will retain a blocking vote on any future privatisation/mutualisation that would get it off the public balance sheet.

This looks like a calculated risk on the part of Sinn Fein, that the UUP would snap it up before falling into SDLP would likely have made life rather difficult for Conor Murphy over his handling of the controversial utility.

Not sure there’s much margin there for DFP to put the squeeze on Sinn Fein’s ministries, since the DUP is already using budgetary issues to squeeze the Grammars in their Education portfolio.

Sinn Fein might rely on Tom Elliott to elevate an important constituency issue (the conversion of the A5 to dual carriageway) to provincial controversy by refusing £1/2 Billion subsidy from the Republic, and let the sleeping dogs of NI Water lie.

Alliance had Hobson’s choice, and for their pains they have the knotty problem of student fees. It’s going to be a tougher station than Justice, where budgets were ringfenced. Relations with the bigger parties will start to get a little rougher from here on out. Although we have still to see what happens over Justice.

The announcements of which ministers get what go out today. Ones to keep an eye out for:

  • Tom Elliot or Danny Kennedy to take DRD?
  • Will Margaret Ritchie Deputy leader and former vice chair of the Environment Committe Patsy McGlone or will Alex Attwood (possibly even our own Conall McDevitt, who was fast out of the traps on Saturday morning to set the party’s agenda) get the call? (There are big implications for the future of the party either way; possibly more later).
  • Will Martin retain Conor Murphy – which despite his mishandling of the NI Water crisis, has probably handled his wider brief most competently of the SF team – inside the Executive? Or is it all change (there’s a big parliamentary party out there with nowhere to go and, by and large outside constituency work, nothing to do).

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