On whose authority was the Assembly convened today for a Ministerial statement?

Here’s a weird one, which may go some way to explain the odd behaviour of the Speaker this morning. It becomes clearer if we ask an earlier question: on who’s authority was the Assembly convened today for a jointly approved Ministerial statement from Arlene?

De jure, and by necessity, the request must have been jointly issued from both Arlene and Martin. So at that point, and right up to the weekend, it looked like Martin was on board. Then came the ‘no wait, I’ve changed my mind and there’ll be grave consequences‘ memo.

This may be what gave Newton permission to waiver, offering the changeable dFM the chance to get his own statement out instead. An offer Mr McGuinness rather conspicuously declined.

It’s not so much that Sinn Fein got the DUP off the hook, but that McGuinness et al succeeded in creating the illusion of difference by tactically flip flopping and grandstanding around the issue.

Clever eh? Well, this latest Grand Old Duke of York routine created the impression (a false one as it happens) that the whole government was about to collapse. It hasn’t, and it won’t. At least not over this issue.

McGuinness’s flip-flopping comes over an issue he was heard to say that SF needed to do some ‘heavy lifting’ on at the end of the last Executive meeting: not least because it was better appraised of this matter than any other party in the Assembly and did nothing about it.

As for the SF amendment, it was immediately struck down because it wasn’t an amendment in any meaningful way. It also bore a remarkable likeness to plans already developed by the DUP to hold an inquiry, and with the sort of directive detail you never find in parliamentary motions.

Well, given, as Colum Eastwood pointed out in the debate, today was originally slated not for statements but for scrutiny of the DUP/SF joint budget. But since no such thing yet exists, it suggests the fresh start agreement, barely a year old, already smells a little musty from disuse.

Yet the matter is hanging. On 13th April 2012 Arlene Foster signed off the scheme without tiered tariffs. Nothing that has happened today answers the question of the lack of tiering. “Minister asleep at the wheel” says, a furious Jim Allister this afternoon.

The DUP will fight this one on their own. If there’s no substantive hindrance from Sinn Fein, they’ll get no particular help either.