“It is the politics of self-interest, exclusion, and fear…”

Less than a week after MLAs Basil McCrea and John McCallister announced the launch of their new party, NI21, and the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Business Committee has changed the number of MLAs a party requires to be eligible for a first round place in the order of party speaking rights in the assembly.   A change that affects only the newly formed party…  [“Meetings of the Committee are held in private” – Ed]  From the BBC report

From 2006, parties with two or more MLAs would be called to speak in the first round of assembly debates.

However, it is understood the Stormont business committee met on Monday and voted to change the system so that in future, parties will have to have five or more members to be called in the first round.

It means that instead of being called to speak sixth, NI21 will now be relegated to 12th position.

The change is on an “interim” basis but, in a letter to Mr McCrea, the Speaker William Hay said the assembly’s committee on procedures is being asked to “consider issues relating to the emergence of new political parties or groupings during a mandate including speaking rights”.

Mr McCrea said: “It would appear that some political parties have ganged up to prevent alternative voices being heard. This is old 20th Century politics at its worst. It is the politics of self-interest, exclusion, and fear.

“What are they so worried about? Why do they feel the need to change a rule that has gone unchallenged since 2006? They are frightened of any opposition, any alternative view and anybody who is prepared to speak out.”

The MLAs who sit on the NI Assembly’s Business Committee are listed here.

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  • sherdy

    Did NI21 really expect a welcome from the other 106 MLAs?
    Politics is a rough and tumble business.
    Could they be so naive? Have they no savvy?

  • GavBelfast

    An element of naivety is a fair point, but the shameless petty self-interest at that pathetic ‘parliament’ seldom surprises.

    Oh, and now quickly the previously most pious of all can become happily flea-ridden.

  • Comrade Stalin

    It’s a shame the BBC didn’t bother to ask for a comment from any of the other parties. Either way, as the Alliance Party learned to its cost some time ago, the public do not respond well to parties who complain about how unfair life is.

  • Adam Murray

    When free and open debate, a cornerstone of democracy, is being undermined I’d say people from all parties should be complaining.

    We all knew the established status quo would be gunning for NI21 but this isn’t subtle or savvy, this is crass and highly sceptical of Alliance et al.

  • pauluk

    They’re sounding more and more like Statler and Waldorf all the time!

  • Seamuscamp

    The trouble with politics is that politics is, well, sort of political. Nemo me impune lacessit.

  • Innuendo

    Diddums.

  • jh25769

    When does this actually come into force? What do the other small parties, who with only one MLA at present it doesn’t affect, but they are probably looking to increase their numbers at the next election. What do they have to say on it?

    I’m not really sure why the other parties would want to do it, maybe the UUP out of spite. But NI21 don’t look like TUV and out to wreck everything.

  • DoppiaVu

    We’re regularly lambasted by allegations of unionist gerrymandering, past and present.

    However, the posts above represent this move as being part of the normal cut and thrust of politics.

    I personally fail to see any difference. It’s not gerrymandering in the strictest sense, but it is in the same spirit.

    Accordingly, I look forward to the vocal anti-gerrymandering lobby springing to Jazil’s defence on this one. Not.

  • Mick Fealty

    What are they afraid of?

  • iluvni

    I see they still have that ‘Mr Principal Deputy Speaker’ nonsense going on up there as well.

  • cynosure

    Pulling the ladder up behind them. I don’t see it as fair play and as someone opposed to the union I’d be unhappy if SF or SDLP are part of this. As mentioned above it might fall under the definition of gerrymandering but it’s of the same family. Excluding people from the political process has a bad history and I wouldn’t want my lot to be guilty of it.

  • cynosure

    Sorry – that should read ‘might NOT fall under’

  • ArdoyneUnionist

    This will be a test for NI21 If they have soming interesting to say then it will be reported.

    Over to you Basil and John.

  • GavBelfast

    Jim Allister put the the vast majority of the 107 others to shame very recently (albeit he would not have and could not have done so without the redoubtable Ann Travers).

    And this is the response of about 102 of them to a fledgling challenge.

    What a pathetic cabal!

  • Red Lion

    Very cynical move from the SF-DUP-ALL carve up elite.

    They are unnerved at a significant section of society beginning to find its voice.

    They are scared that NI21 will speak up and expose all their ineptitude in government, and for highlighting a genuine alternative way of doing things.

    This back door carve up manipulation only serves to make stronger the will and zeal of those they seek to put down. NI21 is moving along nicely and they won’t be silenced.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mick,

    What are they afraid of?

    Maybe they’re not afraid of anything – maybe there’s a technical justification for this that we haven’t thought of ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    NI21 is moving along nicely and they won’t be silenced.

    It sounds a bit like they are being silenced. Isn’t that what the press release is complaining about ?

  • Red Lion

    As I say, press release, they won’t be silenced. The unnerving of the carve up is just beginning. About time!

    Technical reason! Now seriously…

    I’ve never thought of Alliance as the enemy but if you’s are going to start getting on exactly like Dup/SF well then…

  • Red Lion

    With only 8 MLA’s Alliance might have bitten itself on the arse with this one.

  • Tupper

    Talking of alternative voices, these 2 guys weren’t elected under the NI21 banner, so until they do get themselves elected under that banner why would they expect to have any speaking rights at all?

    Their party didn’t exist at the time of the last election. To me they are 2 defectors from a party that did exist, and are essentially independents until the next election, even if they consider themselves to be a party.

    So why should they have any more speaking rights than any other independents?

  • cynosure

    Bitten Themselves on the arse…good one. Hee hee. Possibly true as well

  • Lionel Hutz

    It’s a shame the BBC didn’t bother to ask for a comment from any of the other parties. Either way, as the Alliance Party learned to its cost some time ago, the public do not respond well to parties who complain about how unfair life is.

    —————————————

    Well, the public didnt respond well to the Alliance Party complaining. But it was a bit pathetic in their case given that Alliance have been around longer than their executive colleagues, (except the UUP) and complain about getting ganged up on even though they have been continuously rejected by the public for 40 years.

    I reckon that people would be sympathetic to NI21 on this one. So long as they are not crying about it in the year 2050 mind.

    This does seem like the tired old alliance trying to protect their own small small piece of turf.

  • Seamuscamp

    There’s not much perspective in most of the comment. What did this new “Party” (which isn’t yet representative) expect? Let’s say SF divided into ten mini-parties and the DUP into 10 mini-parties, would the 20 new parties all be given the same opportunity to speak as the original 2 parties? Has the Green Party the same status in debates in the UK Commons as the LibDems? Should George Galloway be given the same standing as William Hague? If Ms Dorries drifts off into UKIP, would she be treated preferentially?

    It is obviously suspicious that the rules have been changed so late in the game; but I imagine they simply didn’t foresee a situation where a new party would emerge, with no mandate and no policies .

    I hope that, if the NI21 duo ever get elected, the rules will be reassessed.

  • sbelfastunionist

    I fully agree with the tone of Seamuscamp’s remarks. Changing the rules at this point does obviously raise an eyebrow but it seems to me that this was an unreasonable rule in the first place. While Basil McCrea says it has operated since 2006, have there been any 2 Member parties since 2006? I suspect the rule obviously only existed on paper and it may have been that it is only when it was going to operate in practise that parties realised the absurdity of this rule. With 2 Members NI21 have a 54th of MLAs so it seems to me that even speaking at 12th they are doing well. Seamuscamp is right that no-one at Westminster would suggest that a party with 1 or 2 Members should be in the top rung of contributions.

    I have listened to some of Basil McCrea’s thoughts on this recently and if it was the case that small party representatives are rarely heard from then it seems to me that Jim Allister has found some wheeze to get round it. How has he managed to be recognised as a one man opposition if he can never be heard from in the Assembly? How come I see him on Stormont Today at least 2 or 3 times each week? The answer was highlighted in the Assembly this week. Jim Allister had been there for a number of question times etc and sat during a budget debate waiting to make his contribution. When he was called, he highlighted the fact that this new opposition movement NI21 had been nowhere to be seen in the chamber all week. All of a sudden Basil McCrea appeared, suddenly deciding to speak and stating that he had been watching on TV. All avid Westminster watchers will know that MPs are expected to sit through the entireity of a debate if they want to be called, even if that is 4 or 6 hours and Speakers have ruled before that watching on TV is no substitution to taking part in a debate and listening to other contributions.

    I’m afraid that I have concluded that Basil McCrea wants the profile but isn’t really up for the graft. Seamus McKee asked him what he was compaining about as the Speaker had informed him that this decision did not restrict him being called for a range of Assembly business. However, his answer was that if you haven’t been called early on, everything has already been said – so much for NI21 bringing fresh politics and fresh ideas!