Friday, 17 June 2011

Paisley and the DUP – row ensues

WITH friends like these who needs enemies? When the DUP fall-out that fall-out is usually behind closed doors. The result sees someone walking off in a huff or simply swallowing their pride and keeping calm and carrying on.

But there has been a very public spat within the party. First off, Ian Paisley Jnr said the standard of debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly wasn’t very good. Next Peter Robinson said that oh yes it was! Pantomime season isn’t upon us, but this was beginning to seem like a right old pantomime.

What it has done is cause us to all examine what the debates at the Assembly are really for. Unless directly relating to legislation being introduced debates are generally waffling for the sake of waffling about special interests relating to constituencies.

Or to have a pop at a Minister – which, frankly, is like shooting fish in a barrel; very easy, but with an after-taste.

Paisley the Younger may be close to the mark in his criticism of the standards of debate at Parliament Buildings – and the standards of grammar. We surely are not alone when our teeth grind as verb agreements are torn asunder by the serried ranks of MLAs on a regular basis! But Mr Paisley should also be aware that the like of Prime Minister’s Question Time is a set-piece zoo-like spectacle of the worst kind.

Here, constrained by the constitutional conveniences of consensual politics, debates are less engaging, rhetoric a skill less-deployed, and the semi-literate can turn a phrase pre-prepared for them.

The real question should be whether it is effective. As the mother of Parliaments, and the legislative home of all reserved and excepted matters, not to mention all English laws, Westminster has a lot more work to do.

On a pro rata basis the Assembly gets through quite a lot of work – all be it that last time out they did a lot of that in the closing weeks. The debates, as such, are the public window-dressing for the beating heart of the Assembly, which can usually be found in the bear-pits of Assembly statutory committees. There lies the real fun, and where unfortunately too few bother to watch or attend the delights of MLAs quizzing civil servants.

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