Today looks like Stormont’s last meaningful day for the foreseeable future…

Don’t expect today to go to plan. The time slot MLAs have to get the unfinished business sorted out is from 12 noon. Nomination of a new First and deputy First Minister is first on the list. When that fails, the Assembly is on borrowed time.

We can be sure that – since this is the last big set piece of the political season for perhaps years to come in Northern Ireland – it’s likely to be well choreographed for maximum effect.

The Economy Minister’s efforts to sort out the RHI payments (opposition MLAs had no sight of the proposal prior to the meeting of the business committee on Friday). The Economy committee will have 2.5 hours to decide before noon.

From the Finance Minister’s remarks, they may let the vote go through on the bedroom tax. But I wouldn’t count on anything. Sinn Fein’s issue is not that they were the first to blink on this occasion, but that, as Eoin O’Malley noted yesterday:

Although Sinn Fein has known about the problems with the Cash for Ash policy for at least a year, it was only at the end of 2016 that it became a fully-fledged crisis. Ongoing revelations made it harder and harder for Sinn Fein to maintain support for Arlene Foster.

It was harder still because the SDLP is now in opposition, and so it could be fully critical of the government. Normally all the major parties were part of the government, and so all the major parties shared the blame.

For the first time, Sinn Fein was being exposed as softer on unionists than the more moderate nationalist SDLP. Sinn Fein had tried to get Foster to stand aside to keep the institutions running. It can reasonably claim to have been pretty patient with the DUP.

So Sinn Fein’s tactical objective for today will be to find ways to obliterate that unfortunate passage of history, and come out looking to their own party like the party who finally put manners the DUP.

Despite the fact that SF hold the Finance, it’s the DUP who, by dint of the fact they have problems they need taken off the public agenda in time for the start of what may to be a very long (by recent NI standards) campaign, who will face the pressure.

Them and an official opposition which has for now at least lost the initiative, whilst the two Government parties try (yet again) to suck all the air out of the game.

Rumours suggest that Brokenshire’s preferred date is 23rd February. If that is a case it will probably mean an intense air war for a couple of weeks, whilst all the parties get their ground war (critical under STV) efforts into place.

For instance, posters are a major element of elections in Northern Ireland. Some old stagers have supplies put aside from last May’s, others, thinking they had five year before the next timed election, had already burned them.

We should have a live blog up and running before 12 today to report the shenanigans and help you keep track.

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  • Nevin

    Eoin O’Malley appears to have a limited understanding of Northern Ireland politics – as indicated by his reference to ‘trust’ in another part of the article. It all hit the fan when BBC Spotlight threw in the depth-charge so the BBC has played a major part in the crisis.

    Eoin claims that ‘Ministers are dictators within their own portfolios’. How would he know? How would anyone know other than those intimately involved? Considering the number of debacles, large and small, which I’ve observed I still suspect our governance system is far too loose and that this has been the major source of our woes.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nevin, our governance system here suggests a perfect storm combination of looseness in some places, with a frequent tendency of ministers to close their departmental doors to pretty much any outside influence. This is all too implicit in the kind of SF/DUP carve-up where inevitably the mindset is developed of “this department is ours, that one theirs”, unlike the situation usually pertaining in most less “forced” coallitions in less benighted polities. The apparent lack of actual management skill which was all too evident in Arlene’s handling of the current scandel also seems to be all too frequent. The characterisation of her response as “almost a text book example of how not to deal with a crisis” I’ve just heard on the Chris page repert on the BBC Today programme highlights an encoded habit of defaulting to the old “Ulster says NO” and depending on the sledgehammer solid voting base (“by standing order”) built upon the percieved intransegence of the late Lord Bannside which apparently mars any attempt at responsible constitutionalist practice in DUP circles.

  • Nevin

    If you could take off those tinted glasses for a moment, Seaan! …

    If you read that Belfast Deficit link you’ll see that none of the Ministers are at the Departmental Board table where they could be advised and challenged by those with alleged professional expertise, the Independent board members. Governance problems aren’t limited to Stormont, they occur at local government level too.

    PS I’m assuming that Ministers would be susceptible to such advice – and that Independent members haven’t been starved of critical information!

  • On the fence!

    ……………………and there was me still waiting on the first!

  • Jag

    “Rumours suggest that Brokenshire’s preferred date is 23rd February”

    23rd February 2017?

    Don’t the rules stipulate there must be at least 43 days notice.

    “If that position remains until 5 pm on Monday then Mr Brokenshire is obliged to call Assembly elections. Under legislation the earliest date for a poll is 43 days from Monday.”
    http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/ni-secretary-there-will-be-no-return-to-direct-rule-1.2937720

    Today is 16th so, add 43 days, 28th Feb would be earliest date.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Are we really at any way at variance on the core issues in this Nevin? I’m writing about the DUP in particular as it is its percieved practice I hear most authoratively about at Sunday lunch or drinks parties with members of my extended family who “know these things”, but surely the kind of lazy approach of ministerial failure to properly engage which your Nalil piece points to is not some “air plant” but has its own deep roots in the “hard questions/easy answers” addiction which a similarly irresponsible approach to the Third Home Rule bill a centiury and more ago has long encoded in our entire political community. Rather than actually “chair meetings of their Departmental Boards” and engage personally in the minutae and responsibilitise of decisions, do our ministers not find it compellingly obvious that they can simply wing it and bludgen their way across anything which comes up, as their ancestors slapped down Home Rule and refused to even discuss the matter as long as they could meet it armed? Such “simple solutions” must inevitably lay up problems for the future whch must grow and grow until honestly faced. But if Arlene’s refusal to even address her glaring responsibility (as Minister concerned) for RHI is anything to go by, the routine habit of an automatic default resort to cheap, easy myopic fixes which has customarily coloured both Unionist myth and history is still alive and well in the DUP.

    The only genuine solution to this would be some catalysmic shift in our collective political consciouness which ensured that Steven Agnew and Naomi Long headed the two largest parties returned in our (possible) March election. But I won’t even begin to hold my breath on this……….

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Perhaps its 23rd February 2018…or 2019…..or……..

  • Redstar

    Well you have to give credit to Givan , Minister for Orange Halls and Bands- he got in there just in time with his grants for all ( loyalists!!!)

  • Nevin

    Seaan, did I mention tinted glasses? !!!

    Some Ministers may well bludgeon whilst others timidly sign-off whatever is placed in front of them; I’ll refrain from speculation! However, I doubt if there’s a read across to party affiliation or constitutional aspiration.

    As for those collapsible stone tables in Ballycastle what was paid for wasn’t what was specified. Various individuals may have been involved in the signing-off process.

  • Nevin

    Redstar, is he the Minister for GAA halls or do they come under a different department?

  • Redstar

    Have you read the list of recipients? I mean I know DUP want a return to the good old days but ffs can they not be a bit more subtle!!!

    Where Paul Givan’s £1.9m in community funding went

    Tildarg True Blues 632 £24,700; Ballyhanny Hall RBP £25k; Tullyconnaught Orange Hall £24,355; Ballynarrig Bible & Crown Defenders LOL 650 £27,120; Camgart Hall/Clabby Lily of the Valley LOL 387 £27,500; Artnagullion Rural Education & Cultural Soc £7,939.20; Cumann Gaelach Leath Chathail £24,500; Rathfriland Baptist £25k; St Tida’s CoI Parish Hall Bellaghy £30,840; Sixmilecross Orange Order £25,080; Tanvally LOL 683; Churchill Comm Devp Assoc £29,200; Dervock LOL 514 ££27,753; Cromie Mem Comm Hall £25k; Cloghfern Hall £19,776; Glasmullagh LOL 446 £7,248; St Elizabeth’s Lady’s Guild £13,650; Crann Go Beatha £25,696; Clantilew LOL 101 £25k; Clonduff GAC £10,500; Crosscollyer St Evangelical Presby £25,206; St Colman’s Hall £34,090; Aughnacloy Masonic Hall House Cmtte £24,800; Bleary Farmers Hall £33k; Erin’s Own GAC Cargin £30,600; CAD Developments Ltd (t/a Glenaden Arena) £25k; First Stewartstown Presbyterian £25k; Randalstown Ulster Scots Soc £25k; Rathfriland Elim £25k: Annaghmore Purple Star LOL 2033 £8,375; Be Safe Be Well £30,730: Servite Trust NI £20,360; Bessbrook Dist LOL 11 £24,322; Bleary Crimson Star LOL 12 £23,150; Syeria Star of Freedom LOL 11 £9,716; Lagfield Youth Hall £24,210; Dundonald PV LOL 1056 £23k; Ballylisk & Mullavilly Comm Assoc £25k; Cloghan Crimson Star LOL 54 £20k; Feaugh Pipe Band £25k; Waringsford LOL 545 £24,880; Ballycastle Parish £25k; Coagh Masonic Hall £25k; Mulnahorn LOL 1644 £24,768; Presbyterian Church in Ireland – Douglas Cong £30k; Scrabo Presb £25k; Albany Presb £24,300; Ballintoy Old School Restoration Cmtte £26,150; Ballyboley Orange Lodge £8,070; Ballymageough Rural Dvp Assoc £21,960; Ballymoney Church of God £24,482; Cavanapole Hist Group £24,876; Ballyquin LOL 645 £11,600; 1st Rathfriland Scouts; Ballymartin LOL 1456 £19,860; Brookeborough Dist LOL 3 £28,800; Lily of the North LOL 249 £24,533; Lislea Comm Assc £24,442; Rankin Cultural Assoc £21,250; Searce LOL 225 £28k; St Saviour True Blues £16k; AO Hibs Div 112 £21,480; Brocagh & Dist Regeneration £19,200; Clough Comm Assoc £4,738; Coneen/Coonian Comm Assoc £6,265; St Michael the Archangel Parish £25k; Tamalght O’Crilly LOL 223 £5,726; 231 Cookstown AO Hibs £25k; Kilcooley Womens Centre £25k; Red Star on Drumcree RBP £25k; St Marks Par Church, Augher £17,436; St Matthews Par Church £23k; St Saviour’s Par Connor £16k; Greencastle Comm Assoc £22,125; Blackskull LOL 125 £23,280; Coaching4Christ £11,250: Col Verners True Blues LOL 162 £24,700; Mourne All Blacks ABC £30k; St Marks (CoI) £6,490: Sheepbridge Heritage Soc £27,230: Action Rural Regen £25k; Ballyknockan Orange Hall £25k; St Katherine’s Par, Belfast £25,200; Ballycraigy Temperance LOL 537 £7,250; Cordrain B&C Defenders LOL 53 £24,996; Garvery LOL 448 £24,950; Kilmore Comm Assoc £25k; Mountjoy Utd FC £25k; Millisle & Ballycopeland Presbyt £18,554.

  • Nevin

    Thanks, Redstar, but I see no mention of the £180,000 for Glenariffe GAA hall. Where is this and other hall funding coming from?

  • Redstar

    No idea. All I see is a blatantly one sided allocation to mainly OO and Loyalist bands with a few token Nat projects thrown in

    This sort of carry on was meant to have ended years ago

  • Nevin

    Redstar, if you have no idea, you can’t reach a conclusion about the overall public spend by government departments , local councils, lottery funding, etc. for these facilities.

  • Redstar

    I am talking about this particular list of grants that the Minister give out.

    You’re struggling badly to justify the fairness of it, but with his recent disgraceful actions withdraw/re instate the Irish language funding – which he himself eventually admitted was a political decision -I am not surprised

    What actually does surprise me is how long it has taken SF to wake up to the leopard never changes its spots when it comes to the bigotry in the very DNA of Dup

  • Nevin

    Redstar, you’ve already admitted to having no idea – so now you resort to mud-slinging.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    As I’d pointed out above, Nevin, such practice “is not some ‘air plant’ but has its own deep roots in the ‘hard questions/easy answers’ addiction which a similarly irresponsible approach to the Third Home Rule bill a century and more ago has long encoded in our entire political community.” But the withdrawl by Unionism in 1912 from a constitutionalist solution which they could not “win” is a to some of us the clear souce for those current politica tropes of undemocratic contempt for the public and the prelediction for politically narcisistic practice in office, from whatever political camp, just as our century long pre-disposition for violent rather than constitutionalist solutions was instigated by the unquestionably successful Unionist flouting of constitutionalism with their 1912 recourse to force. Monkey see, monkey do, same as it ever was…….

    And off the record, better glasses with a light tint against the glare which blinds to obvious historical influences, than the generalised “all in the present” perception which the twin eye patches will always ensure! “Respectfully”, of course!

  • Jag

    All of our recent Assembly elections have been Wed or Thursday which suggests Wed 1st or Thurs 2nd March will be #AE17(1).

  • SeaanUiNeill

    March is what I’m hearing from my “informed” sources over the water, but don’t put money on any of it……

  • Nevin

    Seaan, I was writing about puffoonery in 2012 but you seem to be caught in a time-warp!! Note some familiar faces.

  • Skibo

    Nevin are you stirring again? The Glenariff hall support comes from the Causeway Coast and Glens Council. That is independent of what Paul is doing here. Perhaps we could look later at how that Council has divided up it’s grants but that would be a different issue.

  • Nevin

    Skibo, it’s all public funds but I don’t recall which government department the Council was drawing funds through. Perhaps it was the now defunct DCAL, a ministry held by various parties. Unionists in Moyle DC often moaned that it didn’t allocate public funds equitably.

  • Skibo

    The money for the council is the money for the council. You are trying to muddy the water by taking a grant from one scheme to try and balance a obviously imbalanced scheme ran by Paul. How can you do that without looking into all the grants approved by the council. I would be fairly confident that you would find the problem of DUP’s lack of impartiality runs deep.

  • Nevin

    Skibo, the Council may have contributed a small portion but it was essentially acting as a conduit for government funds.

    You obviously need to do an audit of all public funds from, say, 2007 to see measures of fairness and unfairness. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, governance problems exist right across public service. Minutes now are little more than action points so it will be very difficult to get to the facts.

  • Redstar

    Nevin if you think this latest Cash for Sash insult is anything less than underlining Dup in general, and Givan in particular as being unable to deal with half the population on an equal basis then there’s little hope for you

  • file

    And good riddance to it if it is!

  • file

    Don’t forget his 1.7m bung for Lisburn regeneration as well.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    AH Nevin, we’re both old enough to remember when the Bel Tel was a newspaper……….

    Not so much “caught a time warp” Nevin, but rather a recognition of the power of encoded patterns of thought and action which will regularly regurgetate until they are honestly addressed. As long as Unionism ignores its role in creating those patterns of cynicism and self interested politics which characterise out wee place that magnanimity necessary for all our people to be governed as one community simply cannot take root. Arlene’s inability to even comprehend “Public Service Rule 1 – recognising ministerial responibility for actions” is simply an example of the habitual rseponse of defaulting to some variant of blind force in the face of anything at all difficult in taht it requires a more complex rseponse than Yes or No. While this is not uniquely a Unionist characteristic, it is still a response which Unionism systematically popularised over the last century. The late Lord Bannside’s strongly supported destruction of the old UUP when they even began to make a fist of constitutionalism should be a clear indicator of the ingrained inability of majority Unionism to even begin to imagine engaging on any meaningful level with our glaring political problems, something now long encoded into our political DNA. The worst of it is that in constantly defaulting to their dreary perception of unchanging verities they are genuinely “caught in a time-warp” but without even knowing it!

  • Nevin

    Seaan, as the Ministers aren’t at the Departmental Board table how can they be in full possession of the key information or be advised and challenged by those with alleged professional expertise, the Independent board members.

    And how can the Independent members assess risk if they are kept in the dark? https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e3c6c76b6b3fd29950cd892d662edcbadc1d4b5c6f6b7b05499d8c2e18440c79.png

  • Skibo

    Nevin you really are a doubting Thomas. please see as attached the post in the Irish News where all the £180,000 comes from the Council. Note they say from the Council and not from Stormont. So obviously I do not need to do any audit. The beneficiaries of the money from Stormont via the Minister have been confirmed and I believe you will find they are majority Loyal Order halls.
    The scheme was written in such a way to try and cut out GAA halls as they are mainly sports orientated.

  • Nevin

    Skibo, its public funds whether it comes from the Council or via the Council. There was a rumpus over a new facility in Dungiven when DCAL stumped up all the £2.5 million cost when CCGBC refused to contribute £390,000.

  • Skibo

    That still does not get away from the fact that you were trying to include a grant fund from a council scheme into the scheme set up and ran by Paul Given. i have even heard people say he was only the Minister and didn’t run it but he set the parameters and they were set to exclude GAA halls.

  • Skibo

    The facility you refer to in Dungiven was a council facility approved prior to the amalgamation of the councils and then refused by the larger Unionist controlled council. Yet another example of Nationalist areas being treated differently.

  • Nevin

    Skibo, it’s all public funds.

  • Nevin

    Skibo, you didn’t say that the plans had been approved by a Nationalist controlled council.

  • Skibo

    You obviously forgot what the original question was about. How evenly was the money spread on the scheme for community halls? You fail to recognise that the parameters were set to ignore sports halls which the majority of GAA halls are. I do wonder how many of the OO and masonic halls are used for sport also and why this did not hinder their applications.

  • Skibo

    Oh that was a very interesting subject. The plans were originally approved by the Limavady Council and funds were available to carry out the work. When the councils were amalgamated the area came under the control of a Unionist dominated council and they tried shelving the project even though the majority of the money was being made available by DECAL. They were finally shamed into approving it.

  • Nevin

    Skibo, dare I point out that you’re reinforcing my point about the joint sourcing of public funds and the merit of not just looking at the fine detail but also at the wider picture?

    The old council signed off on a project which would have taken a huge chunk out of funding available to the new council; the new council pointed this out to DCAL and DCAL decided to fund the whole project. Had this not happened there would have been ‘cross-community’ moaning from those that felt they had been short-changed.

  • Skibo

    Nevin if the old leisure centre was retained, it would have taken £800,000 to bring it up to abide by legislation. DECAL was paying £250,000 to fund it. The Council would have had an underspend of £339,000 and rather than give the people of Dungiven a new leisure centre at an expense of £339k as opposed to rejuvenating the old one for £800K. Talk about cutting off their nose to spite their face!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Back in an earlier life of mine, if I were for any honest reason (such as illness) not present at a production meeting where my presence was required, and things which were my responsibility had been decided and acted on without my knowledge or approval, then it was still my concern to have appointed a deputy who would need to inform me of each and every thing I needed to know.

    Arlene is acting as if she were in fully charge but without important information on the matter, while, if your Belfast deficit link is correct (which I don’t doubt) and “none of the Ministers are at the Departmental Board table where they could be advised and challenged by those with alleged professional expertise, the Independent board members”, then she and they are not doing their job, and should be replaced by people who will do it. There is no possible excuse for someone required to fill a ministerial role not to engage fully with everything which that department does, especially where serious levels of public spending is in the offing. If I had been caught our as Arlene has, my name would have been mud and I’d never have worked in the film business again.

    As I’ve stated above, Arlene’s personal response to a very proper challenge of her behaviour is an encoded trope (“not an inch”) of Unionism itself, which was not properly challenged in March 1914 and which has accordingly poisoned our political life for a century.

  • Nevin

    “she and they are not doing their job, and should be replaced by people who will do it.”

    Seaan, my point still isn’t quite penetrating! The governance system needs to be changed so that there is no hiding place for errant or weak Ministers, special advisers, senior civil servants and independent board members. This also means having Model Publication Schemes and a proper paper trail via agendas, minutes and officers’ reports; watchdogs need to act in the public interest, not as mudguards. I’m sometimes offered a phone number as a follow-up route for outstanding queries but I prefer an evidence trail.

  • Nevin

    Skibo, DCAL was paying £2.5 million out of the £2.8 million for a new centre; it handed over an extra £350,000 to CCGBC to cover the £340,000 to be contributed by the new council. The new council wanted to hang-on to the landfill money for other community orientated projects from Dungiven to Glenariff and points in between.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nevin, perhaps the reason for my own emphasis is that I entirely take it for granted that transparency is required, and that important things about how we are governed require serious revision to ensure this. But we are still left with human agency, and its unerring ability to find its own loopholes, especially when it holds the reins of power. Did you ever encounter a film called “The Night of the Generals”? An Abewr investigator is attempting to discover who is murdering prostitutes in wartime occupied Poland. It becomes clear it is one of three German generals. He identifies and confronts the murderer at the moment of the attempted coup following the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1944. The culprit simply shoots him and labels him as one of the plotters. The Moral? As long as one is dealiing with unscrupulious people in power nothing may be able to protect you and Justice herself may be shunted aside. As Juvenal says “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”

    It is of course most important to have regulations and laws to make careless or mendatious rule difficult, but the core problem remains, that if habits of abuse and a contempt for law and constitutional practice are encoded through our history and coloured by evident success, then all unscrupulious people will follow this example, and will find ways of evading their ever being called to account. The reason we have such an absence of accountability, and stringent defamation laws to contain attempts to “out” the abusive behaviour this engenders, is that at its source Unionism set its face against constitutionalism in 1912, and its successful example has become a general trope of our politics. The reason we do not have “Model Publication Schemes and a proper paper trail via agendas, minutes and officers’ reports” or “watchdogs [who can] act in the public interest” is because this is simply not our engrained political culture, much as we both would wish it to be.

  • Nevin

    Seaan, surely its time for you to come out of the bunker? If I can challenge a party-politically why can’t you? We do have an Office of the Information Commissioner as well as the Northern Ireland Audit Office; I’ve had to kick both to get them to carry out the tasks they were set up for.

    My elementary research showed that the Permanent Secretary’s Group ceased publication of what passed for minutes on October 21, 2016. I don’t find that acceptable. Do you? I’ve brought the issue directly to the attention of several politicians and journalists as well as put it into the public domain – and I’ve just checked the webpage. Just as well! The minutes for November and December are now online where we, as more than just spectators/whingers, can also ‘advise and challenge’.

    But there’s still the matter of Department for the Economy minutes. July and September minutes were both created on November 7, long after the dates they should have been online. The October minutes were created on November 17 and, intriguingly, modified on December 5, the day before the incendiary BBC Spotlight broadcast. Should these ‘discrepancies’ not have been picked up by BBC researchers and the rest of MSM? Slugger bloggers? Were they overcome by the scent of political blood?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Bunker, Nevin? It’s me that’s recognising that this problem has social, psychological and historical aspects which are all drawn upon constantly for the functioning of the political culture we all experience here. This is a Gestalt, a web of sensitive inter-related causes, and not something which can be cut into easily manageable separate strips such as “history” and “politics”, while leaving other aspects untouched.

    I have sincere respect for your approach and your efforts to call culpability to account, but until we all recognise that our tribes particular political pathologies are rooted in hard set habits encoded in our political DNA by direct historical influences, any political reform is simply placing a plaster over gangrene, as the constant default positions of our major parties in the face of any challenge to change and grow clearly shows.

  • Nevin

    Seaan, I’m quite aware of many of the historical influences from the distant and not so distant past but incessant finger-pointing at either unionists or nationalists – or both – IMO is the road to nowhere. We won’t get very far very quickly on the road into the future by amputating one or both feet.

  • Skibo

    Nevin, they were prepared to lose £2.5m to build a new centre because they wanted the £300k to spend on other areas. If they had not decided to build the new centre they would have been out £800k to bring the old centre up to safety standard. I think if the councils amalgamation had been delayed, Limavady would have had it started.

  • Nevin

    Skibo, there was no danger of the £2.5 m being lost; DCAL was by far the main funder.

  • Skibo

    Nevin if the shortfall had not been resolved, the scheme could not have been started. The Council had put it on hold.

  • Nevin

    Skibo, I know it was put on hold but I’ve no reason to believe that DCAL would have walked away, having committed to most of the cost.

  • Skibo

    Are you suggesting that the new council were playing politics with it to save their money, to be used somewhere else where they thought the money should have been spent?
    Were they playing poker seeing how far they could push DCAL and squeeze the money from them? Seems DCAL blinked first!

  • Nevin

    Skibo, it was a drop in the ocean for the DCAL budget.