Friday, 14 May 2010

In-tray busting out all over

OWEN Paterson has maintained an air of unflappability since becoming Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, fielding media questions and batting away awkward situations with the calmness of one who has been personally grooming himself for a seat in Cabinet.

In the 80s the position of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was one Tories looked upon as a chance to get the feet under the Cabinet table before moving on to other things; or it was a unique Thatcher punishment for those that found themselves disagreeing with the Iron Lady.

What Mr Paterson hopes to gain as SoS remains to be seen, but he can be assured of an in-tray that is already bursting at the seams before he can get all cosy in the official residence.

The Presbyterian Mutual Society, the Saville Inquiry, public spending cuts – just some of the issues that the Northern Ireland party leaders have been raising as they welcome him to Northern Ireland as the SoS.

Beware the welcomes of politicians who come with welcomes, as it may be the things that are not being mentioned that prove the trickiest.

Leaving aside the big security issues and the need to clarify who does what and when on security, there are also the ongoing public enquiries and the ever popular electoral topics.

Add in to that mix all those nasty hangovers from the Good Friday Agreement, like the Bill of Rights. The said Bill has been under consideration for so long now that it makes the Review of Public Administration’s delays seem like a mere hiccough.

The Tory position on a Bill of Rights and similar legislation has always been one where enthusiasm can be measured in terms of damp cloths rather than any warmth.

But Mr Paterson can expect to feel the heat of the wrath of the voluntary and community sectors as they bring their liberal indignation to bear on any Conservatives plans to axe the Bill of Rights, not to mention Sinn Féin’s views on the matter. More importantly...what will the party coalition partners, the Lib Dems, have to say to axing the human rights legislation ‘in waiting’.

We would say that the public demands an answer, but they seem more concerned with the potential for cuts in services.

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