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).

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  • joeCanuck

    ..could Sinn Fein be holding on to a department which irks the unionists precisely because that gives them leverage in the negotiations still to come? (Mark Devenport)


    Say it aint so, Joe.

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s now ‘the way’ Joe. Better get used to it!

  • Cynic2

    Elliott wont take DRD personally. It would expose even more of his inadequacies and he needs all his time to fend off internal dissent

    And SF really have a chance to set the tone. If they choose education and appoint O’Dowd (or anyone else but Catatonia) its a sign they want to do business. If its Catatonia again then plus ca change.More years of waste, stunning incompetence and ineptitude and another generation of disadvantaged children

  • joeCanuck

    I know, Mick. But take Justice. Despite the two main parties now having a degree of respect and understanding, neither trusts the other with that post. That is despite the Chief Constable now having total operational control compared to the past when he (always “he”) had to do the will of the government (UUP).
    What happens next time around or next year?

  • joeCanuck

    Cynicd 2,

    Totally agree. I think I may have made a mistake in my first comment. I was assuming that Ruane was going to be reappointed.

    Say it aint so, Joe.

  • [the conversion of the A5 to dual carriageway]
    I believe that this strectch between Derry and Dungiven has already been cleared to go ahead, as property owners whose homes are in the way, have already been compensated. That’s where I spent my early years.

  • quality

    For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure Elliott said when he became leader than he wouldn’t be taking a ministry? I could be wrong.

    O’Dowd would be could, he is certainly one of the more competent SF’ers. The Sinn Féin message on education is I’m sure one many agree with, but it has been dealt with in such a piss poor manner, both rhetorically and with the lack of any real contingency plan.

    Martina Anderson on the other hand will be a terrible Minister, hard to shake off the perception of an extremely bitter and cold individual. Would like to see McElduff get it, a bit of a gobshite, but at least a friendlier face and (if promoting an Irish language act) a fluent Irish speaker (able to practice what he would be preaching).

    Junior Ministers – same as before, or slight shake-up? Perhaps a role for McCausland?

  • quality

    EDIT – *O’Dowd would be good*

  • Drumlins Rock

    Quality, I always thought history shows that politicians who are passionate about a particular area of a portfolio are not always good ministers, ie. doctors in charge of health or teachers in education, wee Barry is a bit too zealous about Irish Language and GAA to appear impartial, therefore my suggestion of them putting him in agriculture 🙂 but SF have their own way of thinking.

  • quality

    I am firmly in the anyone but Martina Anderson camp at this point. While McElduff is passionate, he is at least appears personable/sensible enough to be flexible.

    Would have thought Gildernew was a lock to keep DARD, but, if they’re changing every Minister, who knows.

  • Cynic2


    I think (fear) that Catatonia will be

  • granni trixie

    I tend to disagree that DEL is “tougher than Justice” (on grounds that its budget is ringfenced). I mean the sheer magnitude of the task of reforming the Justice system, including joining up the various elements is a BIG ASK. For example, wht about the risks in decisions impacting on powerful blocs such as lawyers?. Prison culture also needed creativity and strategic planning to alter a Troubles relaterd system to one fit for modern times, all when ther is an economic recession (ie no finance for Patton like carrots).

    Also, Alliance is the single party supporting water charges.
    Potentially unpopular, this proposal still did not negatively impact on the vote, showing that the public are OK about hard decisions when a rationale which tries to be honest and fair is presented to them. Perhaps it is with this experience under its belt, that Alliance seems to have been the one party that stated it would relish the challenge of the Health portfolio!

    An Alliance MInister also has the advantage of not being tied to “one” particular community which surely frees them up to come up with creative solutions (such as will confront a DEL Minister).

  • perseus

    very disappointed that SF have gone with education.
    This is about “comfort zones” and you only get a few chances.
    DETI means taking real decision about where money is spent.
    Critizing those with responsibility for the money is easy to do,
    whinge from the sidelines, talk up impossible unrealistic positions,
    I know they don’t want the blame for unpopular decisions in the hard times;
    but the opportunity to be more than a “protest party ” comes when some ability at economic experience is shown. SF ducked it again !!
    Sod off Gerry Adams, he’s behind this rubbish !

  • Chris Donnelly

    I mightn’t be a big fan of the SDLP, but I don’t think there’s any evidence that Attwood failed to provide new housing for unionist communities. He certainly didn’t imitate the DUP in explicitly opposing the building of houses to address need on the basis of the likely religion of those occupying the homes (see the Girdwood scandal.)

    I would hope the SDLP would be in a position to move on the RPA, though I note their local councillors in Lisburn actually supported the DUP minister’s attempted gerrymander, the issue upon which the DUP blocked movement towards council amalgamation.

    I think the Sinn Fein appointments are interesting but also quite risky. Michelle O’Neill should do fine in agriculture, and she’s due a promotion.

    John O’Dowd certainly has potential, but the key for Sinn Fein in this area is to ensure that he is guided by good advisors, a problem republicans will continue to face so long as the policy on salary exists, effectively restricting the paid advisors role to ex-prisoners and the inexperienced youth.

    O’Dowd’s first demand should be that the party headhunt a competent educationalist to guide him through the minefield of selection and deal effectively with the plethora of other issues facing education.

    I like Caral but I think the party missed out badly by not appointing Barry McElduff, who not only has a better grasp on the DCAL remit but is a significantly more polished media performer than Caral.

  • joeCanuck

    What is better, Chris? An able administrator or a polished media performer?

    I did note that you said McElduff has a better grasp but they all are just redistributing money donated by our relatives across the water.

  • Chris Donnelly

    The two are far from exclusive. Indeed, I’d suggest that one follows the other on more occasions than not.