Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition (except for opening stuff and jobs announcements)

What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?

Lady MacBeth, Act V, Scene 1        

Hard to disagree with an essential core of Newton Emerson’s criticism of Peter Robinson, ie that as a leader he’s more tactical than strategic.

He is right too that the First Minister’s assertion that he would not meet the Pope if he were to come to Belfast after the City Council made the Holy Father a generous offer he is likely to ignore [like last time? – Ed] was graceless. .

Popes will certainly take advice on the political wisdom of any such visit, but they come on the invitation of the Catholic church itself, not the local council.

But hey, this is Northern Ireland, where anything goes, and anything means anything you want it to.

As for Robinson, well he is what is. Forty years of his own personal mythology follows him. He’s certainly cautious, but then he’s in a power-sharing administration with a deputy First Minster who’s former aide de camp is now suing his own party.

In the meantime, the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor breaks sod at Girdwood whilst his party colleagues crib about the very deal they agreed to which reduced housing provision on the site.

The party’s Irish language spokesperson (don’t they have a minister for that?) deplores the abolition of Irish language organisations in Northern Ireland that her own ministers actively colluded in.

And hey, in all of the comment on how poorly Protestant boys are faring at school 13 years after Sinn Fein first took over the controls not a mention of who’s responsible for such poor outcomes.

Now John O’Dowd, by far Sinn Fein’s most talented member of the Executive, tells us he’s planning to replace the organisation he was previously planning to bring into existence.

ESA would have undoubtedly addressed some of these problems directly, if it had ever made it into reality. As of the beginning of the year ESA has cost £16 million, now he’s ‘looking at’ alternatives.

On Welfare Reform, the party is  running the same ‘let’s not do anything we don’t have to‘, erm, strategy. The gambit being that if the clock runs out on the Cameron administration so too with the compulsion to comply, and a new round of negotiations will open with a new Labour led government.

In the meantime, no oppositional southern horses will be frightened or harmed in this simulacrous image of a party in government.

Meanwhile the FM and dFM were joking together about another set of jobs (average wage £15,000) coming to Belfast rather than Derry.

All this and more, brought to you “without all of the bother of citizens being empowered to resist, to subvert, to complain, to protest, to organize and agitate”.

Or as John O’Dowd roughly responded to Alex Attwood’s endorsement of Peter Robinson’s claim that Sinn Fein had walked away from a Welfare deal they had previously helped to construct…

“Thankfully, Alex is not a member of Sinn Féin, so therefore he wouldn’t be aware of any discussions going on within Sinn Féin, and thankfully none of the Irish government parties are members of Sinn Féin either.”

Ah, what need of light, or accountability if it should damage our election prospects, eh Lady MacBeth?

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  • JoeHas

    I’ve never understood Peter Robinson’s reputation as a great strategist (in same way I never understood why Sir Alex Ferguson was seen as an expert in mind-games). He’s a decent strategist and a very good electioneer, but there are many examples of very poor DUP plays and missed opportunities since the last Assembly elections, some of the most recent pointed out by Mick and Newton.

  • Gopher

    The only threat to the DUP is from hard line unionism. Peter is simply negating that threat. Strategically for Peter it does not matter. Alliance will get votes for meeting the Pope, so to the SDLP and SF, if NI21 get up and running they will too the UUP are to far gone to matter. Like it or lump it Stormont is set up to protect Peters position, the DUP can petition of concern any motion they like whether it is a Papal visit or opening the pubs longer at Easter.

    No use writing column after column criticising the DUP, any other party in their position with a petition of concern that unflankable Maginot line will abuse it in the same way. Its not Peter or the Pope it’s winning 30 seats, it’s no viable no confidence motion it’s no viable opposition, it’s your party collaborating in letting extreme politics rule us. I keep hearing this Demographic shift and next week we will be in the Republic so why won’t their champions back reform, could it be on 29 seats SF fancy a bit of that unilateral intransigence Robbo has?

  • Its not that long ago that Robinson was getting credit for reaching out to Catholics.
    That didnt last long.

  • Mick Fealty

    Rhetoric is indeed very cheap FJH.

    But if no one cares what these guys are actually doing (or not doing) in government, I’m afraid rhetorical arguments over political rhetoric is all we have for the foreseeable future.

    As the Lady says, “Hell is murky!” Better get used to it… 😉

  • Neil

    A thread about Peter Robinson’s inherent weakness morphed into a tour of SF’s failings as seen by Mick. Except the link doesn’t mention Girdwood, there is no link re: Irish Language and somehow we once again missed the fact that 20% more pupils are getting 5 GCSEs or more than when SF took the post having increased year on year for a decade. Keep up the good work.

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks for checking out the links Neil (I wish more would follow that practice!! ;-))…

    – Are you saying there’s something wrong with pointing out (though I agree, not explicitly) that having reduced the housing provision on Girdwood from 200, to 50 in an area of high housing need, that the SF spokesman has in fact no case to answer?

    – I’ll have a look for an appropriate link on the evisceration of the Irish language support sector, unless someone else can beat me to it… 😉

    – So tell us all, what policy did the Minister introduce that saw that improvement in school performance? Don’t get me wrong, it is good to see, but it strikes me that it’s simply a matter of having someone watchdogging the system to clean out the blockages. That is good. But isn’t that what the Assembly committee is doing?

    As for the blocking of public scrutiny on the basis that Ministers might lose their jobs, I put that firmly in the category of collusion between the DUP and SF at OFMdFM level.

  • Clanky

    As has become a popular catch-all over at LAD, “it’s all about da fleg”, while the electorate carries on being blinded by the “them’uns and us’uns” politics of fear and hatred then the serious issues will get swept under the table by the politicians because they know that they just have to point over at the other side and scream “We’re your only hope against them’uns” and everyone will forget about wasted public money, massive unemployment, a failing health service and a housing shortage.

    It’s time the ordinary decent people on both sides of the religious divide reclaimed politics from the buckle draggers. I was genuinely hopeful that NI21 might be a step towards this and whilst I admire there policies, their execution sadly seems to be letting them down at the moment.

  • Morpheus

    I’d give them some time Clanky. I think most agree that Basil McCrea is exactly the sort of pro-UK candidate we need in Northern Ireland (one that doesn’t ave the stranglehold of the OO around his neck) but there is only so much Basil to go around – he can’t stand in 30 constituencies so he needs to gather a group of like-minded individuals who are equally as appealing to the electorate. That will take a bit of time.

    It will be interesting to see the impact of NI21 on the European elections – a good turnout for them would show that people are sick of the DUUPers and want change.

  • Morpheus

    “…as a leader he’s more tactical than strategic”

    Is that a polite way of saying that he can’t see farther than the tip of his nose? I disagree though, his ‘tactics’ in the past 18 months have been shocking and his strategy is non-existent.

    His ‘tactic’ of distributing those disgusting leaflets (without having the stones/integrity to put his party logo on them) to unleash a beast he could not control resulting in firebombs, death threats and the attempted murder of a police officer was incredibly poor.

    His tactic of providing zero leadership in the aftermath was incredibly poor.

    His tactic of letting rip at Castlederg while ignoring Coleraine was incredibly poor.

    His tactic to include an unelected, unrepresentative member of the OO to be in the DUP negotiating team at Haass was poor.

    His tactic of running to the unelected, unrepresentative likes of Frazer and Bryson before rejecting progress was incredibly poor.

    His decision to manufacture a ‘resigning’ crisis about non-existent amnesties and GOOJF cards regardless of the victims he would traumatize was incredibly poor.

    His outburst about not meeting the Pope was incredibly poor.

    Blindly following Tory policy of implementing welfare cuts without knowing the impact of hundreds of millions leaving the Northern Ireland economy was incredibly poor.

    The only thing he did which was in any way strategic was try to reach out to Catholics a few years ago – probably because of the demographic ‘war’ ad the fact that Catholics refuse to vote DUP/UUP in any significant numbers – but his hand of friendship was quickly whipped back in again.

  • “Now John O’Dowd, by far Sinn Fein’s most talented member of the Executive”

    The Minister appears to have a ‘talent’ for wrecking as evidenced by the attempted dismemberment of the Dickson Plan in his own north Armagh back-yard and the utter shambles that is the Coleraine Area Plan. Unsurprisingly, the media is blind to said shambles 🙂

  • zep

    How can any of them have any credit, it’s like a teddybears’ picnic up on that hill! Even if one of them has a good idea the rest will shout it down, or balls it up, or use a veto or whatever. The best ministers in Stormont are those who have the sense to try and keep a low profile and not embarrass themselves too much.

  • “what need of light, or accountability”

    I’ve drawn attention to a deficit of accountability at the highest level of departmental governance:

    So why don’t Ministers at Stormont chair their Departmental Boards? Why aren’t they implementing the good practice outlined in the guidance prepared by HM Treasury? Would the quality of governance be improved if Ministers, senior civil servants and independent members sat around the same table when key decisions are taken?

    When I raised the matter with a then independent member he said he accepted the position despite being aware of Treasury best practice.

  • Neil

    Third attempt posting. Something to do with my IP I suspect, maybe someone else in work has been naughty in the past but often when I hit submit my responses disappear into the ether. I generally give up after a while. I just say that as I don’t mean to be rude and not respond but sometimes I can’t.

    Are you saying there’s something wrong with pointing out (though I agree, not explicitly) that having reduced the housing provision on Girdwood from 200, to 50 in an area of high housing need, that the SF spokesman has in fact no case to answer?

    Political naivety in entering some kind of side deal over Girdwood and then getting stiffed I suspect. However I have no proof so that’s just my cynical suspicion.

    So tell us all, what policy did the Minister introduce that saw that improvement in school performance? Don’t get me wrong, it is good to see, but it strikes me that it’s simply a matter of having someone watchdogging the system to clean out the blockages. That is good. But isn’t that what the Assembly committee is doing?

    An argument that can easily be turned around. If the minister is not responsible for the improvements then he’s not responsible for the failings. Half true in both cases. Also because of the unique situation we’re in, it’s much easier for SF to make changes to the Catholic side of our education system, I can imagine the outcry if a SF minister insisted that RBAI become mixed ability. So state pupils either get branded an underachiever at age 11 and get sent off to a poor/mediocre state school or get sent to an elite grammar. Anyway, as a response to SF’s failures on the education brief, steadily improving results is a strong argument in response.

    As for the blocking of public scrutiny on the basis that Ministers might lose their jobs, I put that firmly in the category of collusion between the DUP and SF at OFMdFM level.

    What Zep said. I hold them all in contempt and cringe when they open their mouths, because of what they say and how they say it. Still, better than people being killed regularly so overall we’re moving in the right direction.

  • Neil, what do you make of this ministerial spend on school improvements? Why are so few schools in the non-selective sector being promised funding? Why are the controlled grammar schools apparently taking the main hit? Why are such promises being made in advance of area plan decisions being taken? Is money being allocated to schools that are supposedly scheduled for closure? I can think of two examples in Coleraine that have recently been awarded funds, though possibly from a different account: St Joseph’s College [art department] and Coleraine High School [changing facilities].

  • [contd] I meant to add that a new word has entered the local political lexicon. Coleraine High School is being discontinued 🙂

  • Mick Fealty


    You cannot close a popular school, and the voluntary grammars (and maintained schools of all sorts) are undoubtedly popular…


    “If the minister is not responsible for the improvements then he’s not responsible for the failings…”

    Eh? I know I said ‘Hell is murky” but hey, what are we paying him and his SpAd for?

    John might as well, as my sarcastic old P6 teacher would have put it, ‘stand on his head and drink soup…’ as draw a salary for reinvesting in Sinn Fein’s future running the school system…

  • Bemused Southerner


    Robinson may not be as bad as you think. Apparently the DUP is the party to vote for if you’re a loyalist these days.

  • Neil

    There’s a protocol for funding decision Nevin, but I don’t have the energy to dig into it. I’d like to think that whatever systems are in place are applied equally, but if they’re not I think you’re the man to discover that.


  • Morpheus

    The hilarious – or is it worrying – Bemused is that despite the above PR is the best on offer

  • Thanks for the protocol, Neil. The distribution of the SEP funds amongst the various sectors is detailed in the link I provided. The inequality is clearly visible and so is the allocation of department funds to two popular schools that are scheduled for closure as well as the allocation of funds shortly in advance of decisions on future plans that have yet to be taken. Does this not indicate a whiff of a ‘sweetener’, if not corruption?

    “You cannot close a popular school”

    Mick, you’ve overlooked the controlled sector in your list ie those schools controlled by ELBs. Earlier this month, the NEELB education committee went ‘into committee’ and passed a motion recommending that educational provision at Coleraine High School for Girls be ‘discontinued’. If the full board endorses the committee minutes at the end of this month that will be the end of one of Northern Ireland’s top performing grammar schools.

    One oddity in the shambles of area planning is that Loreto College retains its voluntary grammar school status, following the change to non-selective intake, whereas the CAI/CHS combo is to be drastically pruned from just under 1600 to just under 1000, the current capacity of the CAI site.

    I’m publishing details of whatever shenanigans come my way whereas the local media appears to be doing little more than publishing press releases from NEELB officers.

    You use the term ‘popular school’ yet parents have been kept in the dark about this piece of hatchet work. When it all eventually hits the fan I imagine that there will be a lot of angry parents.

  • cynic2

    Anyone like to open a book on what % of eligible voters will actually bother to turn out next month?

  • cynic2

    “You cannot close a popular school”

    ….but at the micro level where every NI politician every school no matter how failing is popular

  • Expat


    You are evidently devoted to rooting-out under-hand decision-making by politicians determined to de-stabilise well performing selective grammar schools and to publicising such abuses when others are apparently unwilling to do so. You give the impression of someone fighting an uphill struggle to save the day for these embattled schools resisting those who would undermine them.

    I wonder whether you give any time to addressing the desperately poor educational performance of working class protestant boys and girls, as recently revealed. If so, you might reflect on the consequences for these young people of the perpetuation of academic selection and the unequal educational opportunities it inevitably enshrines. Such selection is to a large extent a form of social selection – middle class family values being more conducive to the encouragement and support of children’s enquiry, particularly through reading, both in preparation for school and later on. Academic selection therefore leads to social class division and differential investment and outcome expectations, to the disadvantage of a whole class of people. The secondary modern type of school has rarely been thought of a ‘popular’; rather, it has often been the last choice for prospective pupils, if chosen at all. Salvation for such young people will not be found in providing even more of the same that has operated hitherto.

    The grammar school lobby choose to close their minds to the wider consequences of the perpetuation of this disadvantage sponsored by the state – why shouldn’t they if it confers privileged opportunities on their offspring? But this is directly at the expense of others less fortunate. It is surely for the state to ensure that all persons have an equal right of access to available public services – including the educational opportunities.

    The current system is dysfunctional, in that better outcomes are available that far outweigh the potential losses to be faced by radical change. The system operates to the disadvantage of the performance of the economy as a whole, which now demands high levels of training and skills across the whole workforce – for this reason the Tories in England have long abandoned any notion of re-introducing grammar schools. It also leads to the creation of a hardly employable underclass, resentful of its deprivation and lacking identification with the wider society, the consequences of which will be well appreciated in NI.

  • Expat, I’m drawing attention to dubious decision-making by politicians, bureaucrats and quangos. The Minister asked the ELBs, in association with other groups, to produce area plans and then immediately permitted the Catholic, Integrated sectors and the bulk of voluntary grammars to opt-out; the regional colleges weren’t even invited to participate in the process.

    The current system is even more dysfunctional than you portray it! The bulk of the ministerial spend on enhancement programs appears to be going to voluntary grammar schools – Catholic and non-denominational – and to the Integrated sector and different rules are being applied to schools of a similar academic type. It’s a complete shambles.

    My personal preference would be for something akin to the Dickson Plan in north Armagh ie three tier non-denominational 5-11, 11-14 and 14-19 all-ability schools. The present arrangements are dogged by dogma and vested interests.

  • On a slightly different point, Expat, as children split their time between home and school, are you advocating all-ability housing areas too? My attention was recently drawn to low-income families who have been hit by a sort of double-whammy. These have moved to middle-class areas to be close to middle-class primary schools and to get away from areas that are plagued by paramilitaries. However such schools apparently receive less favourable funding than rural schools and tough neighbourhood schools. Meanwhile some of the middle-class families are driving their kids out to country schools to avail of the more highly subsidised facilities. It’s a very unequal world.

  • Nevin,

    It sounds like the public/state school system in the U.S. where schools are funded from property taxes. So, of course the people in the poor areas end up with worse schools, don’t get the education necessary to get ahead and so end up either as criminals or in dead-end jobs.

  • tmitch57, there’s one extreme example that comes to mind from about 1980. It involves kids from a working class primary school in Belfast whose teachers-in-charge at the Corrymeela Centre in Ballycastle sounded very middle-class. “The only morals these children have or those that we instilled in them” was one over-heard comment. I was there with a small squad from our JCSS inter-schools group in Coleraine in support of the Corrymeela volunteer team. Part way through the evening, the teachers headed off to the pub with barely a thought for their charges – and the rest of us had great crack 🙂

  • Morpheus
  • Expat


    Certain things are very wrong with the system of education for those living in deprived areas, both Catholic and protestant. And many working class children in other areas suffer similar disadvantage by reason of the system being loaded against them. While many will do well in spite of all, they are nevertheless offered a second-rate education compared with the selective schools.

    While the burden of responsibility for resolving economic disadvantage cannot be borne by the education system, it will not do to sit back and do nothing on the basis that these matters are beyond the scope of the system (and I am not accusing you of this). Schooling nevertheless has a very big effect on economic prospects, so where we see obvious disadvantage being created, it is surely incumbent upon us to examine that to see how the system can be changed to avoid the limitations it presents.

    The current ststem has failed many of the children in NI and I had hoped to see more comment on Slugger on this important subject following the report of Dr Paul Nolan

  • Expat, I don’t see any hope for better educational outcomes so long as political parties tussle for constitutional superiority and churches vie for their special interests. Even in that small example of the Coleraine area, it’s clear that parents are being kept in the dark and some teachers were given computer tablets when what they requested were books.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Cynic, will go for 50%. Last Euro was 42%, last Local/assembly was 55%, more feet on the ground will get it up from exceptionally low, but it will be tough hitting 50%.