A simpler yet topsy turvy Executive, with more room for elbows around the table

The new NI ExecutiveThe new Executive is much simpler.

There’ll be a little more room for elbows around the circular table in Stormont Castle now that the number of departments has decreased. And there’ll be less need to elbow any Executive colleagues with those elbows.

The two main parties no longer need to craft side deals out of ear shot of the SDLP and UUP. Instead the two parties of government are the government.

Watching the D’Hondt process from the bowels of Parliament Buildings, it felt quite topsy turvy, with parties allowing their previous portfolios to lapse to the other party.

The DUP let go of the previously crucial Finance ministry: it’ll be interesting to see how Máirtín Ó Muilleoir handles the facts and figures of budgets and spins the next five years of cuts.

The DUP also relinquished Health, a department that Simon Hamilton had got a grasp of and seemed keen to continue to reform.

Sinn Féin let Education pass to the DUP who will now have to deal with the poison chalice of reforming post-primary selection.

Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill remains in the Executive, but can lend her welly boots to Michelle McIlveen who will swap lamp posts and verges for farm gates and fields. And we may quickly find out whether Michelle O’Neill is happy that her permanent secretary in Health is married to a DUP MLA.

It will surely be an incredibly frustrating place for Claire Sugden. With no other non-DUP-non-Sinn Féin MLAs around the table, she will be the only school child in the playground who isn’t already aware of who’s doing what and with whom. She’ll discover that meetings are brief and documentation is made available late.

Not only does she need to grab the opportunity to quickly craft some Programme for Government commitments for her department, but she’ll need to appoint a special advisor, stamp her authority on the role with a vision for two or three reforms, and make her presence felt around the Executive table if she is not to become the “patsy of the jokers” as Jim Allister colourfully suggested. (He was referring to her “House of cards if falling” speech.) The new Sheriff might need to introduce some discipline and respect to the ‘naughty corner’!

There’s also the small matter of not losing her presence on the ground in her constituency. It’s a tall order, though one the East Londonderry independent MLA is well capable of managing if she can learn to juggle quickly.

Some well known and capable MLAs are being rested. Mervyn Storey – who was much respected at the old DSD – along with Lord Morrow were not rewarded with chairs or deputy chairs of a committee. Yet only one can be the DUP’s chief whip.

Daithi McKay is a notable omission from Sinn Féin’s nominations to committees.

The Executive will meet tomorrow. Several committees will meet next week. Perhaps the Assembly will even start to meet in plenary session to begin to tackle the new bills that have been suggested … before the summer recess.

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