Needed: Speaker of standing and integrity of Bercow or Ó Fearghaíl (not another stitch up)

Last night Mike Nesbitt announced he was writing to the Speaker to ask him to resign. He was joined this afternoon by Colum Eastwood. Then Caral Ni Chuilin told us she had also written to the Speaker this afternoon, after which Nesbitt released the text of his letter:

Apart from SF’s pattern of shadowing the opposition party’s opposition, what stands out in Nesbitt’s letter is his outline of the timing of events of the weekend in which he notes how the Speaker issued the summons of the Assembly last Friday by joint request of both FM and dFM.

That’s joint authority people. So, not to take away from the very real criticism the Speaker is enduring, but Sinn Fein actively approved the calling of the session, and then cancelled it by media when Martin said he was changing his mind and ‘pulling out’.

Although it appears that the deputy First Minister neglected to inform the Speaker of his sudden and unexpected ‘change of mind’, or had no means to do so without talking/negotiating with the First Minister.

The resulting car crash found the Speaker both weak and confused when faced with a clear abuse by the Executive Office of the facility and authority of the Legislative Assembly.

As Sam McBride notes that leaves him in an impossible situation:

It seemed clear that Mr Newton had lost the confidence of the chamber – including that of Sinn Fein, which just six months ago jointly voted him into office.

Whether he now remains even nominally in charge of Assembly business now rests with Sinn Fein and the opposition parties. If they so desire, between them they have the votes to remove him from office.

But as McBride also notes, whoever replaces him will be just as beholden to his party leader as Newton since he has to be picked by his party to stand again. Both in Westminster and the Dail this is a burden deliberately lifted from the Speaker/Ceann Comhairle.

Stormont could also follow the latest Dail reforms and introduce a secret ballot amongst MLAs so that whoever gets elected to the chair has both aptitude and appetite to take on the current arrogance of the Executive Office.

John Bercow was re-elected after an attempt by his own party to get rid of him, pitching himself as the backbencher’s champion:

And in Dail Eireann Sean Ó Fearghaíl is the very first Ceann Comhairle to elected by secret ballot of the members rather than (as presently is the case in Stormont) appointed by the Executive. And the first to look like he actually wants to be there.

Newton’s not the first Speaker to be compromised by his party affiliation. Mitchel McLaughlin was a much more fluent and plausible occupier of the Chair, but he also set a precedent that pro-actively undermined the authority of the house.

Stormont needs a Speaker of the popular standing, and integrity of a Bercow or an Ó Fearghaíl not another stitch-up by the government.


  • oval

    is it realistic that a speaker be appointed from outside the Assembly. Unfortunately the party machines seem too strong for a speaker to be truly independent.

  • Granni Trixie

    Is the system for selecting a Speaker in Stormont and their independence not related to party systems for selecting candidates. I ask this because from what I read It is in the gift of the DUP leader to select candidates for elections to Stormont. Some other parties (.not all I imagine) leave it local associations to do so which leaves a Speaker less dependent on their party Leader(s) goodwill.

    Not sure how significant or not this factor is but interested in what others thInk.

  • mickfealty

    Secret ballot would allow for drift since it cannot be whipped.

  • Brian Walker

    So Bercow is now an ideal? Tell that to most Tories who think he ratted on them and changed his views to win Labour support to win the Chair.

    The lynch mob against Newton is typical local politics, leaping from pedantry to attack in a single move

    The essential difference is in the prestige of the Chair rather than its occupant. In my lifetime the Commons Speakership has survived an alcoholic and a narcoleptic. But the older the chair and the Parliament, the greater the prestige it seems. The Commons Chair is routinely deferred to in session even when MPs many of whom can’t stand him think he’s wrong , although the role today is less than it was 50 to 100 years ago. . .
    He is never talked over unlike the Cearn Comhairle in the Dail.

    I sympathise with Robin Newton and I would like an expert view on this ruling before condemning him
    This is a newish Assembly with a unique government system and a brand new Opposition. At a similar stage in Westminster pandemonium and suspensions were fairly frequent. up to the furious rows over Home Rule in 19th century.

    The Speaker was on a hiding to nothing whatever he did. Speakers are entitled to some discretion when facing an unprecedented situation. Better that all sides who wanted to should speak rather than stifled.

    Look to failings in an evolving system as well as in the Speaker who is somewhat of a scapegoat here.

    MLAS need to bend over backwards to protect the office rather than attack him. He was exposed because the parties could not achieve the necessary minimum unity.

    I think Mike Nesbitt set a bad precedent by calling for his resignation. This is one case which should be dealt with discreetly.

    I agree there have been stronger occupants. But the test of the Chair comes when the occupant is weak.
    I agree the Speaker should be elected by secret ballot and sever the ties with his party once elected.

    My little fantasy is Eamonn McCann in the chair and as opinionated as Berrow (though with different opinions!).
    He was a brilliant president of Queen’s Literific 50+ years ago when I was a schoolboy

  • Korhomme

    And the (independent) Speaker should be there to uphold the rights of ordinary members, even if this is against the wishes or demands of the executive.

  • Gopher

    When you google Rob Newton you get a Northants cricketer. If you need more perspective and are a 6th century history student I would make you aware that he is hardly Marcus Aurelius Cleander, the mob actually knew him. Let us frame this, a “ersatz” DUP MLA whose only qualification for speaker is that and he is 71 years old is now facing the sack because he cant make sense of the assembly. Everyone should be honest, The assembly makes no sense what does it matter that there is a speaker? Arlene who statistically is the most incompetent minister in Irish history stood up give you all a tongue lashing and you all took it. You think Rob Newtons head on a pike even if you get it will impress anyone after that pathetic display. 400 million goes walkies under Arlenes watch and you go after a 71 year old stooge that will be replaced by another 60 plus stooge the next day. This is just turning the speaker into a patsey for the ineffectual opposition to the DUPs inability to handle public money in a responsible manner. It sounds like we are just sacrificing a a virgin to the Minotaur ito deflect from the biggest achievement of the Assembly since its inception, squandering 400 million pounds. Sounds like your scared of five seat constiuencies.

  • ted hagan

    Newton looked lost, feeble and out of his depth. Surely he should have had the wit to call another adjournment, had a word with all parties and tried to sort out the mess instead of making a complete fool of himself? Can anyone recall a time in its 90 ‘odd’ years that Stormont was ever competent in any department or any thing? I would suggest that perhaps the Brian Faulkner period in the early 1960s, when he was minister of commerce, might qualify. That’s about it.

  • mickfealty

    Shouldn’t have had that third pint of Christmas Ale now, should you Gopher? 😉

  • Gopher

    Sober unfortunately just very depressed that our body politic is so poor but I must commend some of the journos, I actually read the newsletter today for the first time in about 20 years.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Just for clarity; Sinn Fein had already announced its decision to write to the speaker on the radio (newstalk I think) yesterday before the opposition parties publicised their intentions.

    Also, Martin informed the DUP and Arlene that he was withdrawing his support for the statement before he mentioned it via the media. The speaker was also informed well before Arlene was due to speak. Arlene and the speaker went ahead with the full knowledge that Martin did not support it.

  • mickfealty

    On the ruling, the Executive Office put him in an impossible position Brian.

    He was right to convene the Assembly, but he needed clearer grounds with which to deal with Martin’s delinquent media borne interference on the matter.

    To concur briefly with your own fantasy Speaker I suspect Eamonn would have dealt with it with charm and directness, whilst leaving the Assembly and the public in absolutely no doubt were the fault lay.

    The government should fear the speaker, although that does not necessarily mean the speaker must be fierce, just unimpeachable.

    Bercow is no saint. But he is clear in his intention at least allow the Opposition to hold the floor in order to properly hold the government’s feet to the fire.

    Ó Fearghaíl is still in the early days but he is clearly enjoying a job he put himself up for in front of his peers, in contrast with John O’Donaghue who clearly spent most his time in the chair yearning for Longchamps.

    You might be right about Nesbitt’s assault on the Speaker, but it is also clear that things need to change. And that’s not helped by being so indirect good and useful reforms get neglected.

  • Gopher

    If your speaking to Marty, you know the way he is deputy first minister and that is just the same as first minister and one cant act without the other etc,etc, etc (Although Arlene did) Could you ask him if he has seen the list of people on the scheme?

  • Granni Trixie

    Cant see the relevance of age in respect of Speaker.

  • mickfealty

    I didn’t hear the report on Newstalk. Have you a link, a time or the name of programme on which he made this announcement? Why did it take them until after Eastwood’s mid pm’s statement to get an actual presser out?

    As for the more substantive matter of the legality of the Speaker’s ruling, let’s try thinking of it as a bit of a Chinese puzzle?

    Unanimity in order for Office of the Executive to do anything. That happened on Friday, when the request was jointly made. But surely without Arlene he cannot unilaterally withdraw it?

    In these terms, the Speaker was within his rights to let Arlene speak since Martin’s press statement had no standing with the Assembly. Robin’s problem is that he could not articulate that to the Assembly yesterday.

    Martin offered no credible grounds for his change of mind. Did he think he should be allowed to write her explanation of a problem that happened on her watch in a previous job? A job that SF insists had nothing to do with it.

    The SF position on this is not a position at all. It’s not even what you could rightly describe as tactical. It looks, smells and feels like top down panic.

    One of the problems we have in these sort of circumstances is that it is generally assumed that SF politicians are always acting in good faith.

    In this case Martin McGuinness clearly was not.

  • mickfealty

    Stick around. It’s only going to get better.

  • Granni Trixie

    But it isn’t just that he was in a tricky situation unable to operate on his feet …and as it happened his decision favoured his DUP Leader, no he had previous form in perceived partiality.

  • mickfealty

    It may look like that, but I read it differently. He got a clear direction from the Speaker’s Office that Arlene was fine to speak: he simply could not tell the Assembly why that was so.

  • Granni Trixie

    Would I be right in saying that he is the first Speaker in NI to be accused of lack of independence in decision making?

  • Brian Walker

    I take it that the Speaker was not formally informed of McGuinness’s Sunday refusal to back the FM’ s statement so he relied on the Friday recall request. However his offer to McGuiness to speak recognised McGuinness’s media intervention.McGuinness I believe did not formally withdraw the Friday request.Or did he? Why not spell it out? It’s all very silly and the clerks may have let Newton down.

    Robert Rogers the long time Clerk of the Commons frequently wrote statements which Bercow read out.

    The obvious course would have been to disallow the statement and inform the FM she would be called to reply to the exclusion motion and cover all the ground then.. As it was she got two bites of the cherry and was able to reply to the motion before it was even moved.
    However had the Opposition stayed they could have had a good go at her in questions on the statement

    Standing orders should be changed if necessary to allow FM and dFM to speak on actions for which they are separately accountable.Silly not to. I thought they could do that already by moving an appropriate party motion rather than making a statement.

  • mickfealty

    Agree with all of that. Sometimes reading is a good and useful thing, though we should allow for the fact that the Assembly has yet to ground its own tradition through just these sort of procedural games. There likely would not have been a Rogers available to do the writing.

  • Gopher

    It is no offence to the noble age of 71 Granni, I was just trying to demonstrate albeit very badly that the speakers career is practically over even without any controversy ie he is patently expendable to the DUP.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    I literally heard it on the radio in my car so I have no link unfortunately. I remember it only because at the time I though – jesus, now the speaker is gonna get it in the neck too. Shinners dont seem to be always very bothered about informing the media of their intentions, not issuing a press release is no indication that one hasnt spoken to the relevant peeps.

    The speaker issue is a sideshow in my view. (can i swear on here?) Who gives a F&$k? Martin didnt need to give grounds, all he had to say was – I dont support it anymore and tuff titty if you don’t like it. This suggests there needs to be some housekeeping around how the joint office works in terms of its responsibilities regarding the chair, lets face it, as Hanno pointed out yesterday, this is the first ‘normal’ crisis to beset the exec so teething problems in handling the logistics are to be expected.

    I agree with your last paragraph, the Shinners it seems cant believe their luck. The world is falling apart and they simply cannot be tagged to it, not even indirectly; new territory for them indeed. I honestly believe thats why they have allowed some time for Arlene to pull up her knickers and button up her blouse. They can feel out the ground in plenty of time before Arlene makes her next move, she is at their mercy literally, time will give them an opportunity to formulate a multiple response template for the New Year.

    No matter what happens, SF know that an election will put Arlene back up on the horse; even if the saddle is less secure. But that doesnt matter, SF could win back some street cred by forcing her to the polls.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Or worse, if you’re a Duper o-;

  • Anthony O’Shea

    I have and he has 😉

  • Anthony O’Shea

    …i mean Hasn’t

  • T.E.Lawrence

    John Bercow ! Impartial you say ? The Wee Celtic Boys & Girls don’t think so after him singing “The Sash at a Rangers Party !

  • Gopher

    The idea was floated yesterday that people that had taken up the scheme should be paid off. That is an interesting concept that before a public enquiry establishes what actually happened that people should recieve money rather than wait to after an enquiry or having their profits taxed instead. Is this a DUP solo run or are SF in concord with this?

  • Gopher

    Which did he tell you to say?

  • mickfealty

    I meant that strictly as a pleb with a cheap seat in the stalls…

  • Granni Trixie

    ‘The Speaker issue’ is not a sideshow as he has to command
    Confidence. The way he dealt with matters appeared to confirm a lack of independence in a context where his party are under pressure.
    There are also concerns that his behaviour sets a precedence as Speakers so far Are perceived as carrying out their duties impartially.

  • Granni Trixie

    Nice one.

    Talking of end of career things I wonder if the possibility of a Sir or Lordhood-Hood for Newton as Speaker is now likely to be diminished (as indeed is it so for Arlene – note there has been a break with tradition in that thus far there has been no Sir for Robbo).


  • Granni Trixie

    Surely THE reason why people wanted to clarify the status the Speaker was attributing to FM speech was connected to the official status of FM and DFM as equals. So the status and ownership if the Speech has wider implications than you seem to allow.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Gopher, as to whether SF support this or not is a most important issue. And yes, cleaning up the crime scene before any forensic analysis is a most suspect action.

  • Brian Walker

    That raises the issue of the degree of procedural expertise available. I know venerable experts who feared an accident waiting to happen. You need to go into Erskine May to explore precedents for flexibility. .

  • Brian Walker

    But Granni there occasions when the two can speak separately – like taking Questions . I agree that the SO appears to bind them in policy statements. The whole affair is a mix of policy and personal conduct stretching back before her time as FM. . There is a case for her making a personal statement. Yes she could have said it all in reply to the exclusion motion. The problem with that it would have been subject to a vote on her personally and the policy content – an inquiry – could have gone down with her if she lost the vote ( I know in practice she couldn’t lose but that’s irrelevant to the procedure).

    One proper way to proceed would have been an Executive statement on how to deal with the RHI affair now and take the exclusion motion next. But the Executive parties could not agree on the matter of her standing aside An FM statement would not have been allowed and she could have dealt with everything in reply to the motion. But as I’ve said there are flaws in that.

    There is a clear case for flexibility in the public interest to allow her to make a personal defence for conduct stretching back several years.

    There is an unhealthy fondness on NI for clinging unto that rope that’s hanging us so long as it hangs the other side too. That has to change

  • mickfealty

    It would be great to bring some of that expertise to bear on the issue Brian, if we could.

  • Granni Trixie

    Whilst I agee it was in the public interest for her to make a statement, I think it was important to clarify that it was not with DFM endorsement Without clarification it could be portrayed as a joint statement,leaving SF a hostage to fortune,like them signing a blank cheque.

    Not exactly sure what your last line means but sounds like you assume everyone is analysing in sectarian terms which is not necessarily the case. If you mean that what has to change is peoples tendency in Stormont to get hung up on precedent or traditIonal ways of doing things in favour of creativity and innovation you are pushing at an open door as far as I’m concerned.

  • Teddybear

    I never understood why any Speaker has to be an MP/TD//MLA. Surely the job of Speaker can be performed by a senior civil servant if all the job entails is ensuring order of business and proper conduct.

  • Brian Walker

    The role of clerk has been downgraded I think. Worth looking into..

  • Brian Walker

    Granni, The last sentence means people get hung up on small points they both can understand for fear of conceding something unintended to the other side… It happens because of lack of trust and fear of taking a leap to change.

  • Gingray

    One would think, from reading this article, that the solution to the problem you have identified, that stormont lacks a speaker of standing and integrity, rests entirely with Sinn Féin.

    You mention the party 4 times and name 3 individual members members.

    Oddly, the DUP do not get a look in or a mention 🙂

    Strange that you appear to feel that the DUP, despite being the largest party with ultimate say in who the speaker is, does not have an impact on the speakers standing or integrity, but then again, you appear to have run out of of superlatives to describe the DUP, and nothing negative.

  • Brian Walker

    Oh I think the step by step welfare state of the 1940s and the planning modernisation of the 1960s were quite good apart from the failure to locate the new uni in Derry. So indeed was Faulkner’s industrial policy to attract synthetic fibre industries. True, they were bound to follow UK policy and there were gaps.The monopoly UU local partiies were in general more conservative than the government and that’s where the seeds of doom were most sowed.
    This verdict of course omits the glaring institutionalised discrimination.
    But in the areas above and in infrastructure, they were streets ahead of the Republic until Lemass and the Whitaker reforms from the early 1960s.

  • Skibo

    Mick, the order for the office of the Executive to address the house was made on Friday, I agree and the Speaker was right to allow the House to be recalled.
    The issue of allowing the speech to to given needed to be an agreed speech. If it was not, then Arlene had no right as the FM to give it. If she thought she could give it as leader of the DUP then she had no right as it was not covered on the order to recall the House. If she thought she could answer it as the previous Minister, I am not sure there even is a rule for that.
    In the end she gave the speech as the First Minister with the approval of the Speaker.
    Arlene freely admitted that she did not have the agreement of the DFM and stated it in her first line. At that stage she should have sat down and stated that as the Executive is of equal standing she cannot release the statement and apologise for the House being recalled.
    The Speaker should have saved her the bother and ruled that the speech was out of order and move to the second order of business.
    We are not privi to all the discussions that went on between the FM and DFM and this constant snide comments at the DFM not acting in good faith are beneath you.
    Did Arlene act in good faith when she stood and spoke as FM with a speech she knew perfectly well she did not have the DFM’s approval to proceed with?
    The crux of the issue is the Speaker has set the precedent where the FM can represent the Executive independently of the DFM. Either he removes himself and accepts that he made a mistake or the precedent is set.

  • Brendan Heading

    Although it appears that the deputy First Minister neglected to inform the Speaker of his sudden and unexpected ‘change of mind’, or had no means to do so without talking/negotiating with the First Minister.


    This is very unlikely. Remember SF have the Principal Deputy Speaker post.

    Even if the Speaker had not been given prior notice, he was aware of the problem when the Assembly sitting started; that is why he suspended the sitting for 30 minutes to consider the matter.

    It’s not possible to prove whether the Speaker sought to avoid adjourning the assembly due to the grounds for the recall not being met (which is what should have been done) because he did not want to displease his party leader; but that’s the perception that could arise here.

    Regarding the reform proposals, it’s not straightforward. I doubt in a secret ballot people would vote outside of party and/or tribal lines. Protections would still need to be in place to ensure the office had cross-community representation. Protecting the Speaker during an election is also tricky.

    One option might be to appoint a member of the judiciary.

  • Skibo

    Mick if he got clear direction from the speaker’s office he should have no problem explaining what it was and who gave it. He could state on what order the FM was speaking and simply related it back to the order from the Executive to recall the House for a statement.
    Simplest thing would have been to suspend the house for half an hour, call the whips together and agree on a strategy within the rules to resolve the issue.
    Perhaps he took his instructions from his boss!

  • Skibo

    Cleaning up the crime scene and trying to minimise the effect on the budget is two different things. Smoke and mirrors, direction and misdirection by slowly releasing emails is being carried out by one political party and of course Stephen Nolan’s investigative team.
    I do not see how this can be traced back to SF. If anything, the fact that the finance ministry was also in the hands of the DUP at the time of the RHI allowed approval of a budget with a scheme that did not have a cap. How did they allow monies to cover it?

  • mickfealty

    Or telling the Executive Office that it was bound by its original joint request and any rescinding of the order had to come from both? Clarity on this would have rendered the walkout redundant. But that requires determination and nerve.

  • Brian Walker

    PS Bercow was the first Westminster Speaker not to be a stitch up. Good recommendation?

  • AntrimGael

    Does it matter who the Speaker is anymore? RHI/NAMA/RED SKY/CHARTER NI/NON EXISTENT RESEARCH groups etc has ensured that Stormont has NO credibility left, if it indeed had any in the first place. This is the discussion about two bald men fighting over a comb. There is a distinct rotten whiff coming off the entire body politic here. If the Speaker was a performing seal or court jester it would have as much credibility as it does now.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Cleaning up the crime scene and trying to minimise the effect on the budget is two different things.” Of course they are, and both are important. But……..simply fixing the budget does not address the inceptive problem that decisions were made which appear to have been handled on a most casual, unanalytic basis, and in this a person now (jointly) heading the executive has seriously blundered in a decision with very serious financial consequences. This speaks most eloquently about her decision making capacity, something which any of us who care for what government does should be most concerned about. This instance points to a general dearth of talent amongst some of those we elect to govern us, which the electorate needs to understand and address. It is not simply a matter of clawing unnecessarily allocated money back and waiting for the next bad financial decision.

    Where did I say anything about this being “traced back” to SF? The point I was making is in support of Gopher’s significant concern that SF may permit the DUP to simply handle this as an internal enquirey, which has a whiff of offering us all a “letter to the teacher” let off. This really needs some objective scrutiny, and “joint responsibility” means Martin is in a position to ensure an objective enquiry happens, or perhaps not…….

  • ted hagan

    Much of the Stormont policies were cut and paste jobs from whatever government was in power in the UK, so little credit for innovation there, though perhaps one mark for cutting and pasting correctly; The Stormont record during World War Two was embarrassingly poor, with Belfast left virtually unprotected during the Blitz (apart from Stormont itself, that is). i wasn’t making any comparison with the Republic, but since you did. Yes, it has probably a worse record of achievement up until the Sixties, thought its hydro and peat energy policies were imaginative but then it was much more poorly resourced state than Northern Ireland, through no fault of its own, barring that it opted for independence and was thus deprived of its ‘engine room’ in the six counties..

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Is Newton to be thrown under the bus as a patsy for Arlene? I appreciate the argument that Arlene can’t/won’t be shifted until an independent judge led enquiry proves she was up to her neck in the abuse of the RHI scheme. Is the public’s thirst for blood to be slaked by throwing poor Robin to the wolves? You realise folks that the usual suspects are going to slip the leash yet again….

  • Skibo

    I believe the most important objective should be to reduce the impact to the budget and it looks like Mairtin has that in his sights. The fact that the ministry of selective drips of arbitrary emails and failed processes to move the blame has only started to forward potential solutions shows where their priorities are, the good of the party and their glorious leader. Remember they have known from mid last year that there was going to be an over-run.
    From what I read of Gopher’s posts, his main aim is to some how link SF to the scandal that the RHI is. If I am wrong, I apologise.
    The issue of the electorate addressing the standard of talent is difficult as they can only vote for those who make themselves available for voting. To demand a higher level of representation may mean moving away from the party system and introducing more independents. This will lead to a system that will not work. As you can see in the Dail, too high a level of independents actually leads to a multi headed vociferous but useless opposition.
    Perhaps I am being disingenuous about what looks like the constant snide remarks trying to link SF to this scandal but unfortunately if enough sh1t is thrown, it will end up sticking. This merely lets the DUP off the hook.
    The fact of being part of a two party government means you have to have some element of loyalty to your partner or it will not work and we will go back to ministers suing ministers, a total joke!
    I do not believe that SF will allow this slip to an internal inquiry and they would be mistaken to allow it. Peter Robinson tried that and eventually he read the report, exonerated himself and never released the findings.

    There is too much privacy about the whole relationship in the Executive. We do not know what the relationship actually is. The issue will be does SF believe the point of principal of achieving an independent inquiry and the removal of the speaker is worth going to the polls.

  • Skibo

    Mick the order to recall the house to hear the speech does not render the speech legal if it does not have the agreement of both parties. That null and voided the speech as being a speech of the Executive and lowered it to the level of a speech from the leader of the DUP only. One does not automatically give credence to the other.

  • mickfealty

    You’re missing my point though. How does Martin undo the permission he’s already given Arlene without Arlene’s co-equal approval?

  • Gopher

    SF are part of the Government the fact that they would let payments be made to close the scheme before a full public enquiry is bizarre. So if it turns out hypothetically 20 Orange Halls have availed themselves of scheme and have been heating their building 24/7 you want to pay that money out and then hold an investigation? Im sorry but that is a non starter. If there is to be a public enquiry nobody should be getting money in advance and infact we should be looking at how to postpone payment pending a full independent public enquiry.

    SF have done nothing since the beginning of this except make noises about what they are going to do which unless backed by action in itself suggests they have something to hide. The lukewarm reponse of the UUP is also highly suspect characterized by turning the speaker into an issue when 1/2 a billion is now going to go missing. Throughout this crisis there has been a complete honesty deficeit from the Executive, the opposition and the civil service.

    This crisis I contend has already caused grave damage to public services. Answer me this when exactly were the Executive going to make a statement? Building the “it was all Johnnies fault narrative” takes a bit of time I imagine. Spotlight, like those “pesky kids” in Scooby Doo appear to have upset a cheoegraphed timetable of disclosure.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Skibo, our first concern is to have honest, transparent government which every section of our community can trust. How very far from such a condition we all currently are is base level understanding for anyone living here. Simply because Gopher may be trying to blame SF, this does not mean that the gist of his comments should be lightly dismissed. We all have the option of using the facts to defend our own particular corner, but no-one should dismiss the foundation requirement of any democracy to demand a high standard of honesty from those they elect, and if anything genuinely sticks after facts have been fully presented we need to ask just why this is so. Our real enemy here is the contrived obscurism the DUP are attempting to bury the matter below as its being brazened out.

    I entirely agree about the dangers of the kind of semi-private assessment of culpability such as in the case of Peter Robinson displayed and also that there is far too much privacy about how the executive functions. And I would hope, as you suggest, that any misplaced loyalty to their partner in government does not mean that SF simply permits this mess to be quietly swept under the carpet. But I’m not holding my breath.

  • Croiteir

    Yep – but there again that was forced on them by Westminster.

  • Skibo

    Mick, to give his permission did not require her approval. To remove his permission did not require her approval. We do not know what went on between permission to recall the House and the giving of the speech. How do we know that the speech was agreed? Can we be sure that the speech given was even seen by the DFM.
    All we can be sure of is that prior to the FM standing to give the speech, the FM did not have the approval of the DFM to give it. She was wrong but worse the Speaker has set a precedent that the FM does not require the permission of the DFM. That is the grounds on which Stormont and the GFA are built of , parity of esteem. Move from that and we have majority rules and that will not work in NI.

  • Skibo

    Gopher in the real world, when we have a problem, the first thing to do is minimise the damage. Once that is done, the problem can be examined, find out fault and put measures in place to minimise the chance of it happening again.
    The simplest analogy I can give with all that has happened over the holidays, an accident happens on the motorway. The police do not wait for an investigation as to who was to blame before stopping the traffic or allowing the paramedics
    treat the injured.
    The actions of the UUP are not trivial and are definitely not suspect. The actions of the Speaker were serious and go against the foundations of the GFA. Do not make this trivial.
    The actions of the SF so far are above repute in regard to the RHI. All that happened within the RHI scandal touched ministries completely controlled by the DUP. Remember when the RHI was established, there were five parties in the Executive. The RHI is not the baby of this Executive.
    Remember all the parties that tried to keep the scheme open after warnings of the finances running a muck.

  • Skibo

    Honest and transparent government would be a wonderful place to be but in reality a certain amount of privacy is required for government to work.
    I accept that decisions have to be made in privacy. What I expect is a timeline and a paper trail as to how those decisions were made and where the rules have been shown to have been followed. Any interference form external sources must be minuted.
    I do not hold faith in Stormont to find out the full facts of the RHI scandal and that is why I believe everyone should be screaming for an independent inquiry. This is not to say that Stormont as a whole is busted, merely that they do not have the experience in carrying out such an inquiry, not only that but a judicially led inquiry would give it a greater authority and be able to demand statements and the release of all documents.
    I do not believe SF can allow this to be swept under the carpet. Heads must roll but more importantly regulations must be put in place to prevent it happening again.
    Just remember this would not be the first democratic house that spent a fortune for no return, remember the computer system authorised by Westminster costing around £1.2B only for it to be inadequate for the job and a total waste of money.
    Ever considered the amount spent in stopping TB in cattle? In 2008 it was around £21m. I believe it is closer to the £30m now.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I agree with much of what you’re saying above, but must dissent from “Honest and transparent government would be a wonderful place to be but in reality a certain amount of privacy is required for government to work.”

    I really cannot think of an instance where such privacy is needed where it is not required to avoid an instance of proper public scrutiny. On any issue where the public cannot be informed of what their representatives are actually doing, some private interest is at the core of such a requirement and while I realise that at present government generally works to accommodate the tension between the public interest and those of private interests, as in negotiations to attract external investment, this clearly flags divided interests which I’m always going to distrust. If I cannot be told what is going on, it must be because my interests are being compromised in some way which cannot be reasonably explained to me.

    But with what you’re saying about the crying need for an independent enquiry, we’re fully in accord.

  • mickfealty

    We can be sure that Martin gave his authority (for reasons that have not been adequately explained) for Arlene to give an explanation to the house of her actions under the aegis of an earlier ministerial post.

    We can also be sure that Martin was told that like a good soldier he was to stop her doing so he complied. It’s a pattern we’ve witnessed many times before:

  • Skibo

    And it could also be assumed that the house was allowed to be called but that the speech was not approved. As such should not have been allowed. MMG did not need Arlene’s approval to remove his authority.

  • Skibo

    Seaan all government work with an element of privacy. That is why every year we have papers being released from 30 years ago. We are no different. It will be interesting to look back on this time from 30 years in the future and see who is telling the truth.
    Problem is some people here believe democracy means we all have the right to know everything that is happening all the time. Democracy is where we the people elect our representatives to carry this out because if everyone is having their tuppence worth, nothing gets done.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    As one of the “two Anarchists” in the PD described in Bob Purdie’s excellent book, Skibo, I’m very much a direct democracy man myself (“citizen income” too, just for the record). I know only too well how the representative system works and have long critiqued its many failings on Slugger (“Thank you for your vote, now clear off and strop bothering me for the next five years”)!

    As you say, thirty years down the line we get some released material, and an historian I’m grateful for what I can find out from this but even then much of what sees the light is only what was actually put on paper! With so many people who have some experience of law as our representatives, what people think and do, and what is committed to paper are very different things. Amidst all the mutual antagonisms which mark outs politics, one of the most positive features for me is the tremendous cynicism most people, whatever their background, have for politics here, what you describe as “people here believe democracy means we all have the right to know everything that is happening all the time”, and as “the price ofd freedom is constant vigilance” if we are ever to become a genuinely free people there is no such thing as “too much transparency” here, to my mind.

    But, hey, I’m in agreement with quite a bit of what you say here, and I have every respect for those who genuinely feel they can make this old nineteenth century representative system out of Anthony Trollope work to any degree, so lets agree to simply disagree as “friends” on my perhaps idealistic “Utopianism”!

  • Skibo

    Seaan I have one gripe. The (“Thank you for your vote, now clear off and strop bothering me for the next five years”)!
    I find that people think politicians have to keep knocking their door and asking are they all right, do you need me to do anything!
    If people want politicians to work, they need to approach them. There are enough offices now and their contact details are easily found on line.
    That is one of the reasons I will vote for SF at the moment ( notice I say at the moment). I asked for help and they did. Not only did they help but rang back to make sure everything worked out. I didn’t have to go too high either. I found the councillors were more that helpful.
    I am not wedded to them though and if I believe something smells of sh1t, I will say.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Skibo, form the way you write you appear to think that I am some armchair theorist who has never encountered a politicians in the flesh. My great grandfather was active as an active figure in Irish Conservatism and in the inception of Unionism here , and my wider family are “very political” within the process. His son, from whom I follow was a “Home Ruler”. My oldest friend’s brother was one of the first people to stand in the 1970s for what would become the DUP, and my family had long satnding links with teh old NI Labour party. Both during my film career in London, and after I came back over home, I’ve known many active politicians north and south, even meeting socially through family with cabinet ministers and many close political aides for all three major English parties. Here, of course, if you are engaged at all, it is such a small pool that it is impossible not to find council members, MLAs and political advisors amongst those you know. While I can think of quite a few politicians who genuinely function as you suggest, and have frequnetly asked questions and even solicited help, there are many also who have private agendas, sometimes financial. Few ministers over teh water laeve office without considerable gain, in the form of consultencies or directorships. As I pass as having an “elite” accent, people let their hair down in front of “one of their own” and out pours the contempt for the electorate. My comment is informed by a lifetime of direct experience of how politicians really are in private, and I am not responding simply to what I’ve seen on TV but to what I’ve actually heard at dinner parties and as a guest at social weekends in the country where politicians or aides were also guests.

    I will say that I’ve personally found members of both SF and UUP, even the DUP, most helpful in the past, but I feel that the “privacy”of the system, which you feel is essensial, creates a dangerious space where private agendas may be practiced, and our defamation laws, far more stringent than those over the water, may be employed to stop any attemt to bring such things into the open. I could offer examples I’ve encountered, but I’m too aware of the dangers of criminal libel and my response here is becoming over long anyway.

    Sufficent to say, a genuinely mature and engaged public fully active in their own government through modern technology, as Five Star in Italy are suggesting, would be my own preference to the customary infantalisation of the current process which requires “experts” to represent us, where instead of speaking for ourselves on issues we are asked to use a nineteenth century system to choose others and then let them get on with it “in private” often enough. The results of this infantalisation and its frustrations are clear in both the exit from Europe protest vote and election of Trump, not to even begin to examine the kind of “standing order” voting here which ensures Arlene can brazen out the current situation as she is doing, secure in only a slight potential erosion of her dedicated vote. This is certainly “rule of the people” but not “rule by the people” with all genuine and meaningful agency passed over to politicians.

  • Skibo

    Seaan if I have given the attitude that I belittle your experience, I apologise. It was not my intent.
    What I was pointing out is that the way people deride politicians in general is wrong. People who put themselves into the public spotlight deserve respect on all sides and from all sides.
    There has to be a certain amount of loyalty to the party. Where it goes above and beyond, it causes problems.
    I agree that I too believe the relationship of politicians from both sides are far better that they show in public. I had hoped we would have seen more between the to parties of government but the DUP attitude is still a one upmanship as shown by removing a £50K grant from Liofa and some of the decisions on the Irish medium school support.
    If they can get past this present debacle and I believe they will, I hope for better.
    The people need to see them getting on. That will give them the courage to accept we are one community and not two. At that stage we will be able to work on the peace walls and the duplication of services.
    Politicians have to start leading and showing the way and not reacting to the lowest common denominator.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Apology fully accepted, and one of my own offered in return for doing my usual “Ed Reardon” impersonation with this. Over a decent bottle of wine (or peaty singe malt) and discussing subilties (or my own history-writing) I’m endlessly qualifying things, well into first light sometimes. But the necessary berevity of comment on Slugger seems to necesitate the simple outline approach which seldom lets me go in for the endless “buts” I use in conversation!!!

    I’ve customarily avoided using anything to suggest “two communities” in my Slugger comments. For me we have always been one community divided artificially by the self interest of particular mendacious people. Of course I take your point about party loyalty and about people needing to see the governing parties get on, but I simply cannot put “the DUP” and “one community” in my head at the same moment. I heard attitudes from Unionist family members back in the late 1960s which are still unquestioned and raw in my exchanges with anyone I encounter from the DUP. I have some hopes that some in the UUP may be able to imagine “one community” thinking, going on the people I meet nowadays, but as long as the partnership for the executive is SF/DUP I can only see a future of abrasive tensions or private deals, until 50 + 1 finally resets the balance. As you say “the DUP attitude is still a one upmanship as shown by removing a £50K grant from Liofa and some of the decisions on the Irish medium school support.” The sheer blindness which willfully cannot let itself see how Irish medium education encourages the natural quickness of mind of our people (my own experience of the work I’ve seen at Coláiste Feirste) simply cannot even begin to seriously work for the common good.

    But I’ll always be a “grass roots up” man who trusts “the people” but not “the politicians” on principal!

  • Skibo

    Seaan if we do not fully acknowledge the problems we will never find the solutions. We are two communities here, not as extreme as we have been but we need to move further.
    Politicians could speed up that move if they would show how well they get on behind closed doors and I hold them all in contempt in this issue but the DUP are the masters at it. I do believe there are those within the party who are still in 1920s mindset and believe they are going to be exterminated if they agree to UI.
    I too want that 50%+1 as soon as possible but even when it comes, I believe it could take 10 years to complete. We don’t need Unionism to accept it lock stock and barrel but we must do what we can to minimise their fear of being targeted or forced out. We do not have the population we had pre famine and there is room for everyone.