Máirtín flies a one year budget kite without telling his cabinet colleagues first

Frenetic start to the week for Northern Ireland’s Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. At the weekend he was trailed in the media as saying he would try to persuade DUP colleagues to go back to the normal 1 budget a year model to get NI through the Brexit crisis.

That’s how most governments do it: Brexit crisis or not. However, despite Fresh Start, Máirtín clearly hasn’t run it past the First Minister. There’s no real block on it, since the reason for doing budgets over three years was to take account of the fact there were five parties round the table.

It came up in an interview on Inside Politics on Radio Ulster at the weekend, in which there was that odd business about Máirtín’s re-appointment as Director of the Belfast Media Group. John Manley in the Irish News:

When asked why he had resigned from the board and rejoined it after a matter of days, the minister said his accountant had advised him that he could not be paid his Belfast Media Group pension unless he was a director of the firm.

According to the assembly’s register of interests, Mr Ó Muilleoir will receive around £10,000 from his private pension this year.

“What changed is I can’t get paid my pension from Belfast Media Group if I’m not a director so my accountant said: ‘You need to back on as a director’,” he said. The finance minister said he was “very happy to do so”.

Not sure how that stacks up. Nor why the Finance Minister mentioned one-year budgets without first talking to DUP colleagues about it.

Fresh Start, or business as usual?

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Mr Angry

    Business as usual.

  • Declan Doyle

    It’s hardly earth shattering stuff, he answered a question in relation to the budget and suggested a possible option, it’s unlikely his cabinet colleagues will burst into tears over it believeing fresh start to be dead. Refreshing honesty regarding his reasons for rejoining the the board, we certainly need more of that. Media stunts to whip up issues were there are none is where the real business as usual can be found.

  • Ministers at Westminster have to put all their business in trust. They cannot remain as directors. Why not at Stormont?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well I’d agree, but if the DUP were upset as this, where are their protests?
    Why do I feel a DUP Finance Minister would do exactly the same thing?

  • mickfealty

    Welcome to NI politics Declan!! 😉

  • mickfealty

    Indeed. So ask yourself where’s the politics? The only controversy is that he tied it to Brexit, I guess. But it’s hardly a substantive departure point if they are going to agree to do it at some point.

    It’s what you’d expect a two party coalition to do.

  • Kevin Breslin

    You are not seriously suggesting the DUP would do the same thing but spin it differently, like say something generic like “We feel this is necessary in the current economic climate while facing a number of challenges locally and internationally”..

  • Glenn

    Another solo run from the shinners/provos, this time not telling the DUP. Solo runs seem to be breaking out all over the shinners/provos

  • A) thought Fresh Start demanded a ‘life of Stormont’ sorta budget.
    B) don’t know any pension tied to being a board director. How would any director ever be able to retire on that basis, which is surely the point of a pension. Odd, one way or another.

  • One year means less accountability. Ah sure that was last year, but this year….

  • Declan Doyle

    Massively popular parties like SF with serious talent in the shape of O’mul etc. Can afford to float ideas outside the pen.

  • Brendan Heading


    There are a number of things that leap to mind here – I can think of two specifically. Firstly, why is it necessary for Máirtin to draw a pension when Ministers draw a gross salary in the ballpark of £100,000 and when Sinn Féin representatives are expected to live on the “average industrial wage” ? Evidently, his lifestyle expectations exceed this.

    Secondly, why does the pension scheme require its beneficiary/beneficiaries to be directors ? Maybe this is the norm for people who own or operate businesses, but it’s news to me. The newest UK pension rules make it legal to begin drawing down a pension from age 55; so the only way there can be an issue here is if there is some kind of tax benefit, or if the rules of – what appears to be – the final salary pension scheme at Belfast Media Group stipulate this for directors.

    Aside from this, I find our Finance Minister is a fascinating study. I’ve never come across a politician in Northern Ireland with such an enormous contrast between what he publicly commits to – often, apparently, on the hoof – and the total absence of policy substance or any kind of plan to deliver any of it. The Minister is easily the most experienced businessperson in the assembly; but making promises that you have no means to keep is a fundamental lesson learned by most of us in professional employment pretty early on, and I’m sure that any employees who disappointed with undelivered or delayed proposals wouldn’t have lasted long at the Belfast Media Group.

    It is getting increasingly hard to keep track of all things that Máirtín has proposed to do since entering office. From my own notes they include :

    – shortly after his appointment, he asserted on the The View : “there will be an Irish Language Act”. Peter Weir, sitting next to him, asserted in response that the DUP would continue to veto it. Máirtín offered no explanation to those expecting an Irish Language Act about how he intended to get around the DUP veto.

    – on the same programme O’Muilleoir asserted that he had directed officials to identify funding for a school up in the northern end of county Antrim. We’ve not heard what funding they identified yet.

    – noted in the BBC article above, the Minister claims to be preparing a stimulus package with “plenty of actions to build up the economy”. Not only is it unclear how any of this will be paid for – why would his officials be better able to identify extra money than they were in the past ? – it is unclear what authority he possesses to implement “actions to build up the economy” since the remit for most of this lies with the eponymous Department of the Economy under Simon Hamilton.

    – Claire Hanna of the SDLP noted that the Minister had, again on the hoof, floated proposals to increase education funding by £330m, a proposal not present in SF’s manifesto, and lacking any clear picture of where this funding would come from.

    These are the standout events, but I can recall a number of tweets and other comments along the lines of “I’ve directed my officials to see if we can help with X” or “we’re committed to improving Y”. Often, the proposals are well within the remit of other government departments. While the Finance Minister’s agreement is required for spending in other departments, he has no power to direct spending on any projects in any other department without the consent of the Executive.

    The overall theme is consistent : the proposals are apparently improvised and reactionary; they come unaccompanied by any kind of plan to get agreement; are uncosted; and appear to be floated without the consultation of the Executive colleagues who collectively assert a veto over anything and everything he might wish to do. The perception here is of an political actor who prefers to go off on solo runs and is emphatically not a team player.

    The Minister would need to watch himself. Not only is he risking damaging politics by gaily circulating promises that he has no idea how to keep; he’s setting himself up with tripwires. Since he seems to be being positioned for the role of deputy First Minister, I’ve no doubt the DUP would delight in seeing him take a few falls; ostentatiously pulling the plug on a couple of these plans seems like a pretty good way to leave a bullish newspaper proprietor with egg on his face.

  • Brendan Heading

    What exactly is M O’M’s “serious talent” ?

  • Declan Doyle

    Little difference north and south it seems, although at least u guys don’t have to put up maith Mehole Martin…. Yet ! 🙂

  • Brendan Heading

    it’s unlikely his cabinet colleagues will burst into tears over it believeing fresh start to be dead.

    For the Executive to fail on Fresh Start before they had even started implementing it would be highly embarrassing, particular after SF’s embarrassing U-Turn when they became the only Irish republicans in history ever to hand powers back to the British government

  • Declan Doyle

    U-turns are a figment of imaginations mainly. Changing your mind or indeed taking for the least worst option is good politics.

  • Declan Doyle

    Business for a start. As lord mayor he was a huge success cross community. Also he is incredibly bright. That’s enough to be getting on with.

  • Jollyraj

    What were his cross community successes?

  • Jollyraj

    Mehole? Is that you belittling the Irish language, Declan?

  • Brendan Heading

    U-turns are a figment of imaginations mainly

    SF said they would never implement welfare cuts, then they reversed this policy and transferred welfare powers back to the British government. What is imaginary about this ?

  • Declan Doyle

    What I said, the least worse option. If u put a knife to someone’s throat and say “stick out your tongue or I will kill u” even if the person previously swore they would never stick out their tongue, the sensible thing for them to do is stick out their tongue. That’s what SF did, they stuck out their tongue rather than have their throats cut.

  • Brendan Heading

    Business for a start.

    Businessmen seldom become successful in politics ..

    As lord mayor he was a huge success cross community

    I’ll give you that, but the Lord Mayor is a ceremonial role. But there’s no doubt that he was one of the best.

    Also he is incredibly bright.

    Plenty of bright people in the assembly.

    That’s enough to be getting on with.

    We’ll see. I think SF should be careful where they bet the farm.

  • mickfealty

    True. Business cycles tend to go in three year (as opposed to one, or even five) year cycles. But I’d be prepared to give the benefit of the doubt.

  • Brendan Heading

    I have no problem with your justification of a u-turn, except that SF spent four years denying that any U-turn was necessary. The knife was not only held to the throat, pieces were being hacked off.

  • Megatron

    I have worked in pensions my whole career. I have never heard of nor could I conceive of someone having to be a director to draw a pension.

    That rule flies in the face of the very definition of pension which is a fund for when you are no longer working. One possible explanation is he cannot accrue pension without being a director…but that would just be remuneration which presumably he would need to disclose.

  • Megatron

    Not sure about that business cycle point?

  • Declan Doyle

    “Businessmen seldom become successful in politics”

    There is a first for everything.
    And u accept he was an excellent mayor.

    “Plenty of bright people in the assembly”

    None as bright as him. But glad u accept he is bright.

    “We’ll see”

    Indeed we shall.

  • Gopher

    There is also questions about electoral stunts and the cloud of malicious rumours during the above mentioned campaign

  • Granni Trixie

    It’s a matter of definition, isn’t it? To me people who joined SF, a party who supported ‘volunteers’ and the campaign of violence during the troubles, could be said to be IRA supporters.

    But was he in the PIRA? There is no evidence I know of that he was.

  • the keep

    He is without substance will be interesting to see how much support he gets when he has t o start introducing cuts.

  • the keep

    A huge success as Lord Mayor really?
    Hopefully you dont include selfies as being part f his success?
    As for being bright lets wait and see….

  • Megatron

    Not sure what you mean about taking decisions…that is not what he said. He said he can’t get paid his pension unless he gets back on as director. I can’t see how that is true.

    Normally it is the opposite…you can’t get your pension until you stop working!

  • Jollyraj

    “Can you make executive future decisions about the pensions from an organisation if you are not an executive director?”

    Conflict of interest?

  • Jollyraj

    Not to mention the whole McKay thing

  • Jollyraj

    I haven’t suggested anything outside the rules. I simply reacted to your odd comment which seemed to be saying, in essence, that he needs to stay on simply so he can award himself a nice pension. Champagne socialism indeed.

  • babyface finlayson

    But that would be true no matter when he decides to stand down.
    It does not appear to be his given reason which is about drawing his own pension,not losing executive power (as Megatron has pointed out).

  • babyface finlayson

    It was you that read in his desire to keep his decision making powers despite him not saying that!
    Unless there was more to his answer than what is included here?

  • Brendan Heading

    Can you make executive future decisions about the pensions from an organisation if you are not an executive director?

    I think the answer to that is no.

    Well, it depends on how you define “executive decision”.

    Since M O’M is (by some distance) the majority shareholder in Belfast Media Group’s parent, he exerts complete control over the company without having to be a director of any kind.

    Stir the pot of mud. Off we go lads, fill your boots

    It was Máirtín who chose to put this information in the public domain; in any case, his business dealings are no less worthy than those of the DUP, which have received plenty of coverage here and in regular media – and rightly so.

  • Brendan Heading

    Oh it’s his money you have a problem with, it all makes sense now.

    It’s money that Sinn Féin have a problem with. It is they who piously talk up the fact that their representatives receive the average industrial wage.

  • Brendan Heading

    Indeed, I’m watching carefully for when that happens.

    Of course, there’s a chance that it won’t happen, as he has already indicated that he is seeking to expand the Executive’s borrowing powers. Creating an artificial boom by maxing out the credit card is a well-worn strategy.

  • Brendan Heading

    None as bright as him

    I’m curious about exactly how you measure this. I mean, the man is not an idiot, but I’ve yet to see him do anything particularly exceptional.

  • Brendan Heading

    Alasdair McDonnell is an example of a momumental political failure. I’m sure you can find someone better to compare M O’M to.

  • Glenn

    A report last year stated that the so called IRA’s army council were pulling the strings of the shinners. They are one and the same so hence Sinn Fein/IRA or shinners/provos.

  • chrisjones2

    Used to …. They have u turned on that too

  • Brendan Heading

    misdirection – check
    victim status – check
    whataboutery – check

  • Gopher

    Nope. The claim his polling was winning an election he wasn’t and there still is the provenance of that slur that is open to speculation. Plus as mentioned below he has questions to answer over SF’s agent provocateur Bryson.

  • NMS

    Surely Sinn Féin changed its name to The Workers’ Party? The issue then is what you call the organisation that now uses the title. Provo is fine by me.

  • Gopher

    Considering his questioning went with the script laid out as Jim Allister pointed out he has questions to answer.