Monday, 26 January 2009

War of words – This time it’s for real

Plenary sessions can be dull at the best of times. None but political anoraks and ‘special’ interest groups tend to follow the machinations and procedural nuances of the plenary sessions of the Assembly.

But when accusations of unparliamentary language are flung around the chamber and the temperature is raised, things become more colourful. At times it’s as if MLAs want it to be the verbal equivalent of the World Wrestling Federation’s ‘This Time It’s for Real’ bouts on Sky.

During this week’s debate on the Financial Assistance Bill, First Minister Peter Robinson was on fine form as he jousted with the SDLP. First Declan O’Loan and then his party colleague SDLP Leader Mark Durkan were laying accusations of various forms of “deceit”.

An increasingly weary speaker – the debate ran on to almost 10pm – cut into the debate to say he will be calling Mr Durkan to withdraw his remarks. Should he fail to do so, the Foyle MLA could face a suspension from the Assembly on Monday, which, of course, comes after this weekend’s SDLP Party Conference in Armagh.

More pertinent in the ongoing spat between the SDLP and the DUP/Sinn Féin axis is the impact this will have on relations in the Executive, where the SDLP Minister Margaret Ritchie has to negotiate choppy waters in trying to move forward her Department’s Social Development programmes.

And, as Ministers lead themselves down more alleys of discontent, what does this mean for cross-cutting Executive programmes such as Health Promotion and the Children’s Strategy?
OFMDFM ordered the creation of ‘Children’s Champions’ in each department – one cannot help but wonder if the playground jostling in the Executive needs a champion all of its own to settle the class down. Unfortunately, Senator George Mitchell has a new job – solving the Middle East Question.

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