Friday, 19 September 2008

Assembly Business

The Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, the Child Maintenance Bill: the Budget (No.2) Bill and the Charities Bill received their Royal Assent.

The Diseases of Animals Bill and the Presumption of Death Bill received their Second Stage. There were a range of Committee changes and an Ad Hoc Committee on the Draft Criminal Damage (Compensation) (Amendment) Order (Northern Ireland) 2008. As predicted the debate on Republican Activity was somewhat circuitous – with the DUP and SF both claiming that the dissident Republican paramilitaries are heavily infiltrated by the security services.

Ministerial Statement: North/South Ministerial Council Aquaculture and Marine Sectoral Format

Private Members’ Business debates were held on Neighbourhood Renewal and Executive Matters. Those tabled on Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Integrated Schools were not moved

Next week

There are debates on Town Centres and PPS 5, Review of Conviction Case and Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
Committee business consists of a motion on the Referral of Matters to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee and there are the usual range of Private Members’ debates on Integrated Schools, Planning in Residential Areas and 20mph Speed Limit Near Schools. There is an Adjournment Debate on the development of the Magee Campus of the University of Ulster.
Needless to say there is no Executive business.

Heading for the rocks

The current impasse is developing into a crisis. Crisis is an over-used word in NI politics, however, it appears that the stances of the DUP and SF are hardening and we could be on a conveyor belt to a real break down of the Executive. Neither side appears to be prepared to give the other any ‘wriggle room’. It is particularly worrying that Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have started public exchanging ill tempered letters. Robinson is halting meetings of the North South Ministerial Council and the British Irish Council. He is also threatened to put the work of the Assembly Review Committee on hold.

Sinn Fein 'isolated'

The UUP, SDLP and DUP showed their frustration with Sinn Fein by holding a meeting without them. Sinn Fein again blocked the meeting of the Executive scheduled for Thursday. The ‘round-table’ meeting also showed that without the Executive their authority is extremely limited. There was some talk of limited business being transacted by exchange of letters but it is hard to see why Sinn Fein would concede this.

Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown visited Northern Ireland this week. He addressed the Assembly in a low key address in which he sided with those who believe that the DUP should agreeing to the setting of a date when policing and justice should be devolved. Brown was clearly seen to side with Sinn Fein which one suspects was bad politics on his part. Tony Blair – whose one really achievement was to keep ‘the process’ going – had an incredible ability to ‘balance’ his messaging to all the parties. Even when he was found to have mislead or to have failed to deliver all of the parties still maintained good relations with him. It could be that Brown’s knows that either there are simply no votes in NI for him or that in a few month’s time it won’t be his problem.

Peter Robinson will have been extremely irritated by Gordon Brown’s remarks to the Assembly.

Local by election turns out to be …a local by - election

Despite huge amounts of media coverage and commentary about what might or what might not happen in the Enniskillen by election the result was fairly predictable:

2008 by-election
Debbie Coyle (SF) 1816 1816 (28.8% +0.3%)
Rosemary Flanaghan (SDLP) 739 (11.7% -6.5%)
Arlene Foster (DUP) 1925 (30.6% +2.4%)
Basil Johnston (UUP) 1436 (22.8% + 2.3%)
Dr Kumar Kamble (All) 231 (3.6%)
Karen McHugh (Ind) 158 (2.5%)

Combined Unionist Vote 53.4% +4.7%
Combined Nationalist Vote 43.0% -3.7%

2005 local government election Enniskillen DEA

Votes by Party:
SF: 2,486 (28.5%), 2 seats
DUP: 2,454 (28.2%), 2 seats
UUP: 1,785 (20.5%), 1 seat
SDLP: 1,584 (18.2%), 2 seats
Soc Party: 406 (4.7%)

Essentially the unionist vote coalesced around the unionist front runner – the DUP and the nationalist vote largely coalesced around the nationalist front runner – SF. It is unclear why the nationalist vote – especially the SDLP share - dropped so markedly. Was it disinterest by SDLP supporters or did the SF squeeze on the SDLP fail to compensate for the numbers of disillusioned SF voters who did not vote?

Progressive Democrats RIP

The Progressive Democrats in the Republic of Ireland have been limping on since their bad result at last year’s General Election when they were reduced to just two members in the Dail – the Irish Republic’s Parliament. They have now decided to call a special conference at which it is highly likely the party will be wound up.

The PDs were a radical party and have seen their ideas, particularly on the economy, adopted by the other parties. Their right wing agenda of tax cuts and privatisation was essentially Thatcherism although it was a description that is rarely uttered in the Republic. The party can justifiably claim credit for much of the economic transformation in the Republic.

Omagh - CCHQ

The truth about security force activity in the run up to and in the immediate aftermath of the Omagh Bomb in 1998 came under the focus of the BBC’s Panorma this week. The programme revealed that the bomber’s mobile phones might well have been under survelliance before and after the bombing. This information was not passed on to the RUC until days after the event and they have never had access to the post bombing tapes.

The programme raised so many questions that Gordon Brown was quick to order a review by Sir Peter Gibson, the Intelligence Services Commissioner.

Alliance reconsider

The Alliance Party having ruled out taking the Policing and Justice Ministerial position seemed to reverse their position this week. David Ford – having spoken to Gordon Brown and the other leaders at Stormont – refused to rule out taking the job. One wonders what his price will be?