SpAd debate: Winners, losers and the SDLP’s tough call on the matter of victims

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First and foremost was the great (by Stormont standards) opening filibuster from former Slugger Award winner Daithi McKay. He demonstrates the value of investing young parliamentary talent. A classic Boycott opener which gave his party a respectable base from which to bat.

This was one of the few free ranging debates in the Assembly in six whole years of sittings. When bills travel through the House at any stage, there is no limit on contributions from Members. It was spattered with interesting asides and insights.

This was the Assembly’s very first piece of major legislation is a private members bill from a single MLA from a single member party is both testament to Jim Allister’s considerable legislative and political skills, and the sheer lack of productivity of the Executive.

Winners and losers? Well, just one winner, and it was clearly Jim Allister. Turgon asked on Slugger some time ago what would a positive political achievement look like for the TUV if it was not to go the same Dodo’s way as all previous anti Agreement projects.

This was hardly indicative of a coherent new liberal right programme, but it was nevertheless a tangible and humanising victory over which he can honestly point out to his voters was achieved with little or no help from his former colleagues in the DUP.

The loser was, however else it is finessed, Sinn Fein. The ex prisoner regime inside the party is strong and it goes right to the most senior levels of the party. They remain the hidden hand of authority which the dFM pays tribute to above. This will go hard with what’s casually referred to as ‘the Leadership’.

Most others broke even. I’d agree with the BBC’s Gareth Gordon that the SDLP took the bloodiest nose. But in the longer term, they have managed to push their way to a much better position than they had before. The question now is, can they exploit it?

For all the numbers on the SF benches, they only have a few class players. Mitchel McLaughlin for instance did most of the effective skirmishing for the party.

By contrast, at times, the SDLP looked like an unfit, overaged fifteen that hasn’t played a competitive match in years. But Alban Maginness got close to embarrassing the SF front bench with this short period of forced play
before the Speaker reigned him back in…

Luckily for SF the shot of the party’s front bench smiling at Mr Maginness’s mention of Jean McConville has missed most cuts of the highlights so far. Belfast ain’t Dublin, and Stormont ain’t Leinster House. [Added later]

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We still have fifteen SpAds as we had before. Six of them (including Mr Kavanagh) work in an office that has no direct executive responsibilities, which are, understandably enough, are carried out by the Executive Ministries.

That’s more than half a million pounds in salaries for what is still, in fact, mostly a Yes Minister style Department of Administrative Affairs.


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