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.