Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Ruane calls on MLAs to become team players

The Ulster Unionists and SDLP were urged to start behaving like team players in the Stormont assembly by Education Minister Caitriona Ruane on the 19th June as she saw off an attempt to commit her to a policy of offering every student teacher in the North a one-year post.

The DUP backed a Sinn Fein amendment which kicked the proposal into touch by agreeing to consider implementing the scheme, identical to one which operates in Scotland, only once a review of government spending at Stormont had been completed.

So, not only are Sinn Fein unable to compete in radicalism with the cosmetic reforms of Scottish labour or the routine barbs of other right-wing parties in Stormont, Ms Ruane is able to offer a convincing reason for their failure. She urged the Unionists and SDLP not to commit the executive in Assembly votes to schemes without taking into account the constraints on ministers` budgets – that is, to spare Sinn Fein and recognise that she holds a comic-opera ministry where the British control the budget!

Posted by North

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Executive ignores vote on personal care

An indication of the undemocratic way the Assembly will operate was revealed by the vote on the provision of free personal care for the elderly. An innocuous motion sponsored by the Alliance Party calling to the introduction of free care, which was narrowly passed by the Assembly, provoked a furious response from the finance minister. Peter Robinson accused fellow minsters who voted for the motion of breaching the ministerial code and engaging in "crowd pleasing". He revealed that the executive had agreed not to vote for high spending measures unless all ministers supported them.

This mini row exposes the pretensions of the Assembly to be some sort of parliamentary body. Rather than the will of the chamber being sovereign decisions are made in secret within the executive and presented as a fait accompli. The debate that takes place within the Assembly is therefore a complete charade. There is an element of truth in the charge that the Sinn Fein and SDLP ministers who voted for the motion were posturing. As such votes will be ignored they are really making an empty gesture. This was confined by the health minister who said he would take note of the vote but would not be bound by it.

Minister for equality slams gays and lesbians

The belief that any thing progressive can come out of the new power sharing Executive should have been punctured by Ian Paisley Jnr’s recent rant at gays and lesbians. In an interview with Hotpress magazine he is quoted as saying: "I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong. I think that those people harm themselves and - without caring about it - harm society." He included the usual weasel words about not hating them as individuals only "what they do". However, this week disclaimer does not take away from the discriminatory and inflammatory thrust of what he said.

What makes his statement significant is not just what he said, but the fact that he is now a junior minister in the office of the First and Deputy First Minister. This government department is responsible for promoting human rights and tackling discrimination. Ian Paisley Jnr’s comments put him at complete variance with the duties of his office. They were a clear breach of the ministerial code. In any liberal democratic political system he would have been forced to resign.

However, the Assembly and power-sharing executive do not conform to such norms. They are a sectarian carve up in which parties get into office on the basis of the support they can muster in their respective communities. The DUP is the Protestant party and Sinn Fein the Catholic party. While there is formal equality between the two, in practice the unionists have the whip hand.

The row that followed the Ian Paisley Jnr’s homophobic rant illustrates this well. Ostensibly, Ian Paisley Jnr speaks on behalf of the department that includes Martin McGuinness. However, the Sinn Fein deputy First Minister was powerless to censor him. He was reduced to claiming that Ian Paisley Jnr was "speaking for himself" while in the next breath saying that the "responsibility to deal with this is with the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFDFM), it lies primarily with Ian Paisley Snr". Did Martin McGuinness really expect the man who led the Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign to censure his son for making homophobic comments? His record shows that that Ian Paisley is in full concurrence with such views.

The fact is that nationalists have no power of censure over unionists. It is they, Sinn Fein in particular, who are the subject of censure and sanction. Unionists have to demonstrate this inequality to their supporters. The homophobic comments of Ian Paisley’s Jnr are a small example of this. They weren’t just off the cuff or careless remarks, they calculated to show that the DUP will stamp down on anything that even faintly hints of human rights or equality whether that be for gays, women or especially Catholics.

The most disappointing reaction the controversy over Ian Paisley Jnr’s comments was from gay groups. Rights campaigners campaigner Andrew Muir refused to call for his resignation, instead calling for "dialogue and discussion". That such conflict resolution-speak can be trotted out so thoughtlessly shows the degree to which the politics of the peace process has permeated popular consciousness. There is a belief that the process will deliver a more equal and liberal society in the north in spite of the DUP being in the driving seat. This illusion will take time to dispel. But we know it must, if only for that fact the unionists are compelled to dash such hopes in order to secure their own position.


The intention of this bog is to provide a commentary on the proceedings at the Sormont Assembly. By documenting how the Assembly is operating we will expose its thoroughly reactionary character. This is particularly important given the myths that have grown up around last assembly. Commentators and politicians have portrayed this period as some kind of golden age which succumbed to a dark period of direct rule. In fact the last Assembly and Executive were a sectarian bear pit and associated with some very regressive polices. For example, it was the last Executive that first raised the prospect of water charges. The current Assembly is likely to behave in a similar manner, and could possibly be even worse given the dominance of the DUP. This blog will stand as record of the rottenness of the political set up at Stormont. We hope that it will also serve stimulate debate on the left on the politics of the north. Our readers are therefore encouraged to comment on the posts than appear here.