Wednesday, 29 September 2010

No sorrows to seek

IF you stand as the leader of a party in Northern Ireland you expect to get a wee bit of grief or a whole lot of it if truth be told. Tom Elliott’s election as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party last week may have been a personal moment of triumph, but within hours he had not his sorrows to seek.

The Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Michael McGimpsey, was being lambasted for having messed up in the chamber over the increasingly confused and confusing blame game over the chaotic aftermath of the Donagh child abuse case.

McGimpsey had previously been quietly admired and openly loathed for his stout performances defending his turf of health. Despite numerous onslaughts he was seen as handling reasonably well the vagaries of one of the toughest ministerial briefs.

But just a few hours after Elliott and his massed mates from west of the Bann had scored a notable victory, the Minister for Health was on the ropes, having to apologise to an increasingly hostile audience.

As the political vultures sharpened their talons (and all politicians can present this trait no matter their shade of loyalty), the new UUP supremo must have been silently cursing the Gods of politics.

Instead of quietly considering how best to handle a brittle party structure, he was facing a dilemma. Instead of taking the time to consider whether a dignified ministerial shake-up was in order, Mr Elliott is being forced to back his health minister, lest he be considered weak in the face of the onslaught.

The hold on any sort of power is tenuous to say the least, but when electorally weakened at the polls – the only vote that really matters in such tumultuous days for the UUP – strength in power and decisive action resound well amongst the party faithful, even those faithful to the defeated leadership candidate Basil McCrea.

So, the chaos around the UUP and the Donagh abuse case continues. Officials continue to brief ministers, ministers who have to contend with a complex situation, while the stew of pre-May elections brews.

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