Thursday, 10 September 2009

When is a First Minister’s speech not a First Minister’s speech…?

Peter Robinson’s speech at the Ulster Hall earlier in the week surely points to the painful fact that the Northern Ireland Executive aint working. The agreement thrashed out at St. Andrews (with a unionist/nationalist veto inserted) has resulted in a serious bout of constipation at the heart of the government in Belfast, with the decision making process at a virtual standstill.

Earlier in the week, Robinson was invited to make the speech at a conference entitled "How can devolved government deliver for citizens", as First Minister but delivered it instead as leader of the DUP. The original speech that he was to have given and that had been agreed by the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was jettisoned.

This, unsurprisingly, didn’t go down well with the deputy First Minister, accusing Robinson of indecisive leadership - going so far as to say that he believed the First Minister had returned from his Florida holiday suffering from sunstroke and that he had spent "too much time at Disneyland".

From this speech it is clear that the DUP would now like to see a removal of the unionist and nationalist vetoes and the requirement to have cross community support for certain votes in the in the Assembly. Sinn Féin understandably feels that if this were to happen, the other political parties would ‘gang up’ on it and push through decisions that would unpalatable to its constituency.

However, this is all academic as any changes to the current arrangements would need Sinn Féin buy-in. As Mark Devenport put it on his BBC blog, ‘we have deadlock over resolving deadlocks’.

It is little wonder therefore, with the DUP feeling the heat from former MEP Jim Allister’s Traditionalist Unionist Voice, and the likelihood of a Sinn Féin First Minister in post after the 2011 Assembly election, that Robinson felt moved to go off message.

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