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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  • Kevin Breslin

    So both SF and the DUP reject Education as their first pick … interesting.

  • ted hagan

    Astounding that Britain is about to make its biggest decision in decades with the EU referendum, yet for all its so-called ‘Britishness’, the debate is almost being completely ignored here.

  • Reader

    Alan Meban: Sinn Féin let Education pass to the DUP who will now have to deal with the poison chalice of reforming post-primary selection.
    I’m not convinced that this is a poison chalice for the DUP, as they only want to tidy up the status quo. And if the maintained sector really wants to abandon selection the DUP won’t try to stop them. Just snigger as the Catholic middle classes sends their children to the controlled sector instead.
    As for the Irish language sector, I suspect it is well protected by equality legislation, funding legislation and a possible POC. It needn’t expect any favours from the minister though.
    Only thing to watch out for is the currently unfunded Free P schools (unfunded because they won’t accept the curriculum). A DUP minister might try to get them some funding.

  • Msiegnaro

    We’ve been here before, the debate has been won by the “In” camp so there is nothing to discuss.

  • Msiegnaro

    What did the DUP pick first?

  • Kevin Breslin


  • Gopher

    Yes I suspect Methody could buy up tracts of empty buildings along the Lisburn Road to cope with the demand for places. Integrated education from the top down who would have thought it.

  • Granni Trixie

    Pretty good analysis Alan.

  • chrisjones2

    “the placewoman of Marlene”

    …more like bastard lovechild …..seen by the cameras …never heard in the Executive

  • Msiegnaro

    She was previously quite vocal so that may not suit her.

  • Katyusha

    Nesbitt’s house of cards speech seems to be full of positives for me.
    I’m not sure that emphasising “the message that Northern Ireland has failed” fits with the UUP’s interests. It should be a fun time for them in opposition: they’re going to have to demonstrate that the Executive isn’t working properly, but they still need to maintain the illusion that it can ever function.
    This will only give the impression that they are arguing for Stormont’s collapse rather than presenting a case as to why they should be at the helm instead of the DUP.

  • Katyusha

    I’d rather SF had taken Education as their first pick, honestly.
    I wonder what are their intentions with the finance role? It’s hard to see them being able to implement any meaningful left-wing policy, even if they wanted to.
    Do they only want the prestige? Or maybe they want to prove to the Southern electorate that they can be trusted with some economic levers?

  • Msiegnaro

    What are the differences between the “Finance” and “Economy” portfolios.

  • Reader

    Finance is “Money for government”, economy is “jobs for the people”

  • Katyusha

    As far as I know, “Economy” is what used to DETI – Enterprise, Trade and Investment. It runs Invest NI and tries to provide support for businesses; it also organises trade missions overseas which are apparently supposed to accomplish something.
    “Finance” is a bit like the UK Treasury, it approves the budgets for other departments.

  • Kevin Breslin

    In simple terms that is just about right, although Finance minister also deals with the Civil Service and the Economy minister deals with Higher Education, Further Education and Skills.

  • Neil

    The ministry of plenty and the ministry of good news.

  • murdockp

    the economy generates the taxes and the finance minister on NI reports how much they have overspent thier budgets…..again….

  • Redstar

    Well personally I think it was very decent of MMG to take time off from schmoozing around british royalty to welcome onboard a unionist JM after his boss Arlene told him no taigs need apply

  • articles

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

    The DUP also relinquished Health: oh really, rather like the match game where you force your opponent to pick up the last match; Health as usual was the last match.

    a department that Simon Hamilton had got a grasp of: oh really, just one press announcement after another in the fag end of a DUP administration .

    and seemed keen to continue to reform: oh really, he avoided the big strategic issue ( hospitals) and took the populist option of broadsiding the Board.

    SF are now the holder of the poisoned chalice, having allowed DUP to set the agenda pre election.

  • dodrade99

    I suspect the new Justice Minister will find excuses to visit Magilligan as often as possible.

  • PV Nevin

    Issues of gender, sexuality, and above all religion are used as a diversion.
    The unremitting navel-gazing ‘analysis’ by the press and broadcast media concerning the divvying up of seats and everything else according to religious party affiliation smothers any real discussion concerning the social and class question. Concerning the question of socialism or capitalism.
    That O’Muilleor is a millionaire capitalist is of no concern to the commentators. Or rather, they are all too aware of this aspect of the new Finance minister and they choose to suppress it.

  • Granni Trixie

    Indeed. The public seem little interested. At the Q and A session after a talk given by Arleme Foster at QUB on Monday not a single question was asked about Brexit.

  • Gopher

    So with the dust settled what exactly happened yesterday? Had D’Hondt actually ran for Justice given that the DUP let SF take finance we would have been looking at a DUP Justice Minister anyway which makes Eastwood’s attack from old Hibernia less factually accurate than Mikes from old unionism. The fact is SF wont have a DUP MLA as justice minister but were prepared to compromise on Sugden. From where I was sitting the Executive actually reaching a constructive compromise was not worthy of the ham fisted attacks upon it.

    With D’Hondt the DUP would have got Justice and Economy and SF Finance and Education. SF gave up Education something which was probably a relief for them. As I see it that is the basic deal.

    Both SF and DUP come out it of it looking pretty good. Marty’s success was managing to keep Gerry’s gob shut during the whole process which led to a smooth transition without the usual loudhailer politics played out on TV and the press.

    The opposition for me not showing any inclination of working together and attacking on totally different axis was nothing short of stupid in the face of SF and DUP concord. Nope I think they should have applauded the appointment of Sugden and attacked the volte face on Health, Finance, Education and Culture there was enough subject matter there to keep a village idiot busy for years.

  • Slater

    In Sugden’s interviews she sounds as if she has been given an award not a challenge.

  • Msiegnaro

    MMG is many things but a pushover he is not.

  • Nimn

    Totally agree – Simon Hamilton is the great DUP wafflemeister. At both Finance and Health he liked to portray himself as the Great Reformer.
    In Finance his race to get the Wonga loan from HMT forced upon him a series of public sector reforms he would never have otherwise undertaken.

    At Health, on the basis of a speech he made last November he launched a public consultation on the “preferred option for reform”with questions like “Do you agree that there is too much complexity in the current system and that it is not working to its optimum capacity?” It was effectively a series of closed questions heavily skewed to a ‘yes’ response. That is the way the man works.

    His idea of reform was to announce the closure of the Health and Social Care Board and to spread its functions across 7 different organisations and the staff with it. No rational explanation given. Staff advised by a media report.

    His response to the excellent Donaldson Report was to set up another reform body under Professor Raphael Bengoa – which had many people diving into Google to see who he was.

    Professor Bengoa is best known for seeking political consensus for health reform and he kicked off meeting with political parties to establish some working principles for his review – Simon Hamilton with his penchant for spin called this a Health Summit. The resulting set of working principles here:
    https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/dhssps/expert-panel-principles.pdf amount to statements of the obvious.

    And as for the £1bn over 5 years pledge…if spread evenly and assuming it starts in the next budget is £200m a year. This will not be new money in the sense of providing new services. In the main it will cover steady state costs and does not address the 6% pa rise in demand for our health services.

    Now that Simon has moved to Economy expect more reform talk and spin over CT, Summits, reviews and the like…all activity dressed up in the name of action.

  • Skibo

    I tend to agree and suggest we now judge them all on results. I pity Michelle O’Neill with the poison chalice. She is more than competent though and if there can be an agreed solution to the problems within the NHS, she would be more than capable of carrying it out.

  • Skibo

    That is where Arlene earned her spurs. Wonder it Simon thinking of a similar trajectory and a push for future leader?

  • Ryan A

    I think SF expected the DUP to opt for Education first, hence M O’M was unveiled the day before, possibly with the intent of Economy. I think the DUP either by accident or design then wrong footed them. Finance was potentially a shoe horn fit for Ó Muilleoir. A potentially dangerous one as the SF commitment to lift the rates cap (or indeed any type of rate reform) on homes worth over 400k might be a high voltage issue with his Balmoral base..

  • Nevin

    Carál was acting as his minder yesterday:

    Mr McGuinness: I select the Committee for the Economy, and the vice Chair will be Alex Maskey. [Interruption.] It is what? Is it gone? Apologies. Can I have an adjournment for a few minutes, please?

    Mr Speaker: A request has been made for an extension of the time limit: Standing Orders require Assembly approval for such a request. The Question is that the Assembly approve an extension of the time limit by — can I ask Mr McGuinness for a time?

    Ms Ní Chuilín: Sorry, five minutes.

  • Nevin

    “She’ll discover that meetings are brief and documentation is made available late.”

    Claire was an intern on the Committee for Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, January 2008 – April 2008, was David McClarty’s parliamentary assistant from September 2008 and has completed two masters degrees [‘Irish Politics’ and ‘Political Lobbying and Public Relations’]. The dogs on Abbey Street, Coleraine, knew about OFMDFM machinations ages ago and will, no doubt, have passed the benefit of their insights to Claire.

  • Msiegnaro

    So he applied for economy when it was already taken?

  • ted hagan

    That should have been in the DUP manifesto then;
    ‘Vote Brexit, but if you couldn’t arsed, so what”.

  • Nevin

    Yes, it had already gone to Steve Aiken, UUP.

  • barnshee

    “She is more than competent though ”

    Vast experience of the public sector and commerce
    Chief exec of successful organisations]
    A stellar academic and professional career

    Like the new minister of Justice

    “She is more than competent though “

  • Skibo

    That is not what I made of it. Here, I thought was a child who was throwing the toys out of the pram because he was not getting enough attention. Thought he was very condensing to the new Justice minister.

  • Kevin Breslin

    It’s protected by the threat of Sinn Féin taking the ball (or should I say sliothar?) home if the DUP embarrasses them.

  • Reader

    Didn’t the DUP embarrass SF during the last assembly? And SF didn’t bring the roof down then.
    If the DUP put the Irish language schools at a disadvantage to Integrated schools, then I’m fairly sure that the SDLP would help SF with a petition of concern.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Not embarrassed enough.