Now Westminster is settled, here’s all the other unsettling business NI politicians need to get back to

Lagan Valley count 2015 WestminsterIt’s back to work on Monday for our local politicians.

There’ll be no commission on the union (though David Cameron should now outright reject the idea), no extra £1 billion of cash, and no immediate possibility of bargaining for the 45 ideas in the DUP’s plan. Though over the next parliamentary term there are sure to be plenty of tight votes in which The Northern Ireland Plan can come out of Nigel Dodds’ back pocket and be used as bargaining chips when Tory rebels threaten to defeat the government.

Winning back East Belfast was a “key priority” and now that is ticked off Peter Robinson’s list a refreshed leadership team must surely be expected by the autumn in time to mount the 2016 election campaign.

Though first, he needs to select a new Health Minister [most likely Jonathan Bell – but who will be rewarded with the Junior Minister position in OFMdFM?] to manage the department for the next 12 months until another party picks up the poisoned chalice. Update – Simon Hamilton moves to Health permanently; Arlene Foster moves to Finance; Jonathan Bell moves to Enterprise, Trade & Investment; Michelle McIlveen is new Junior Minister.

He also needs to prise Sammy Wilson and Gregory Campbell’s fingers off the Parliament Building benches and appoint replacements in order to finally eliminate double-jobbing (and stop Gregory from making embarrassing outbursts in the Assembly chamber). And find a sofa to hide the idea of a conscience clause behind. (Judgment on Equality Commission vs Ashers now due on Tuesday 19 May. Appeal due the day after no matter what the judgment says!)

We should expect a new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to replace Theresa Villiers. Cue lots of initial meetings with parties and a tour around 2015/16 party conferences with their single transferable speech. Update – Theresa Villiers stays in post.

With a depleted Labour Party, will Shadow Secretary of State Ivan Lewis be shifted/elevated to another shadow post and away from Northern Ireland before the Heenan-Anderson Commission finally reports in September? Perhaps newly-elected Conor McGinn (originally from South Armagh and Vernon Coaker’s political advisor) will get a tap on the shoulder? Update – Ivan Lewis stays in post.

Sinn Féin’s hope of a welfare bailout from the anti-pernicious bedroom tax Labour Party have been well and truly dashed. Welfare reform is still not agreed, the Stormont House Agreement is still broken, and the original timetable has gone out the window. I blogged in January about some of the steps we would expect to see in the first half of 2015.

  • Final budget agreed in January 2015.
  • Welfare Reform Bill legislation before Assembly in 2015 and passing Consideration Stage by end of February 2015.
  • Opposition arrangements and support to be put in place by the Assembly by March 2015.
  • Establish a Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition by June 2015.
  • OFMdFM to bring forward legislative proposals – including Code of Conduct, criteria, accountability – on parades and related protests (via the Office of Legislative Counsel) to the Executive by June 2015.
  • Establish a compact civic advisory panel by June 2015 that will meet regularly, consider key social, cultural and economic issues, and to advise the NI Executive

Sinn Féin will have their eye on Irish polls in 2016 as well as next May’s Assembly election. I’d predict that they’ll also start internal conversations about ministries and ministers they might target when d’Hondt next runs: perhaps dropping Education in favour of Economy, and switching out Martin McGuinness as deputy First Minister for Conor Murphy, Caitríona Ruane, Michelle O’Neill or Gerry Kelly.

It may take the UUP a couple of weeks for replacements for Danny Kinahan and Tom Elliott to be found and agreed before they formally resign from the Assembly. The House of Commons starts swearing in new MPs on Monday 18 May. The party will also have to staff up an office in London and remember how the Commons can be made to work in their favour. [Ed – I’m sure the DUP MPs will be only too keen to take them under their wing …] The UUP are financially better off with two MPs. However, they are now weaker in the Assembly and the DUP will surely target the co-opted MLAs in May 2016.

The SDLP‘s Alasdair McDonnell has signalled that he will resign from the Assembly and stop double-jobbing. However this change will only exacerbate the existing barely-concealed unease felt by some members of the party about his leadership and will surely trigger a leadership challenge at their autumn party conference if he does not volunteer to stand down. Having co-opted Fearghal McKinney into the Assembly to replace Conall McDevitt, will the talented Claire Hanna finally be selected to replace McDonnell and given time to consolidate her profile ahead of next May’s election?

Finally, after the Ginger Ninja [Ed – can people stop calling her that?] Naomi Long gets her breath back from the ferocious election campaign, she and the Alliance party need to consider how to best use her. Assuming she has no intention of becoming Baroness Long of Ballyhackamore, and assuming she doesn’t choose to walk away exhausted from politics, the party have few ‘good’ options.

  • After her success in coming third in South Belfast Westminster election, Paula Bradshaw would be rightly miffed if Naomi was parachuted into Anna Lo’s seat over the summer.
  • An early and divisive selection meeting could choose to deselect either Judith Cochrane or Chris Lyttle in favour of running Naomi in East Belfast in May 2016. [Ed – face it, politics is brutal and that’s what should happen.]
  • Long-serving party leader David Ford could step aside in South Antrim and hand the seat onto the former East Belfast MP, and Stephen Farry or Naomi would become the next leader.

Yet much larger issues face Northern Ireland MLAs and MPs.

Austerity hasn’t gone away you know.

The next Westminister budget must bring further cuts that will reduce the finances flowing into Northern Ireland. We haven’t yet agreed how to deal with last year’s cuts and there are several more years of them in the pipeline. The Executive table and the Stormont institutions will remain shaky for many years to come.

Oh, and don’t forget to get those posters down … and pick the cable ties off the ground and don’t leave them around the lampposts!

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.

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