The New Executive


Arlene Foster (DUP Fermanagh-South Tyrone) and Michelle O’Neill (Sinn Féin, Mid Ulster) are again the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

But the two junior ministers, Gordon Lyons (DUP, East Antrim) and Declan Kearney (Sinn Féin, South Antrim) will be the gatekeepers, conduits between their bosses and the civil service, organising the SpAds (Special Advisors) and of course the big link to their Parliamentary colleagues.

The Justice Department went to Naomi Long (Alliance, East Belfast) by acclamation. So again this contentious position is outside the normal d’Hondt choices. DUP wont tolerate a nationalist holding it but Sinn Féin have signalled that this is the last time they will accept this. So Alliance get an Executive seat without it being justified by their mandate. But for once, it is academic. If the Assembly had not been re-instated, Alliance would have gained some seats and qualified for an Executive seat as a right.

DUP took the Economy Department with Diane Dodds (Upper Bann) who will cease being a MEP later this month. She was only co-opted as a MLA last month to succeed new Westminster MP, Carla Lockhart. Hubby, Nigel Dodds lost his North Belfast seat last month…so I am sure we are all relieved that the Dodds family has again landed on its well-shod feet.

Sinn Féin took the Finance Department, the overseer of the public finances. Conor Murphy (Newry-Armagh) is really the main SF player. His leader, Ms O’Neill is a figure-head.

DUP took Education. Peter Weir (North Down) who left the UUP in 2001. Education can be a contentious issue. Fault lines include state (de facto unionist and Protestant) education, Catholic education (de facto nationalist) and “integrated education” a letsgetalongerist option. But it is also marked by a divide between Grammar schools and Comprehemsive schools, often seen as a “class” issue.

Sinn Féin took Communities, a ministry that includes Sport and the Irish language. Deirdre Hargey (South Belfast) was only co-opted into the Assembly a few days ago. I dont like her. Enough said. So clearly fast-tracked and possibly a recognition that SF is worried about holding the seat. I see it more as an attempt to have a Belfast-based MLA at the Executive table.

SDLP took Infrastructure. This means that Nichola Mallon (North Belfast) is now the Minister responsible for my (free, All-Ireland) bus and train pass. She has also responsibility for transport and roads etc. I am extremely disappointed that SDLP dd not take Health. SDLP has had a good winter, culminating in winning two seats at the Westminster Election. The SDLP were also the party who most credibly has been highlighting the problems in health service and appearing (with more credibility than Sinn Féin) at picket lines outside hospitals. So, while not under-stating the importance of transport and roads as well as my bus/train pass, I cannot understand why SDLP did not choose Health. It looks like cowardice, an example of just “talking the talk”.

So UUP thru Robin Swann (North Antrim) took Health. The poison challenge. Steve Aiken, UUP Party Leader made reference to the civil servants in the public gallery. He might well be expecting some hassle.

And DUP took Agriculture & Environment. Fundamentalist and Creationist, Edwin Poots (Lagan Valley) is the Minister.  He is a farmer and his most extraordinary belief is that Brexit is a good thing.

And there we have it. A new Executive that has just two years left on its mandate.

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Assembly: A Few Thoughts

I am not really enthused about the Agreement that kick starts the Stormont Assembly after three years.

The Assembly was brought down three years ago because of the RHI Scandal and now it is back and there is still no publication of the report into the Scandal.

It is a negotion that DUP has won or more precisely Sinn Féin have lost. The farcical standing ovation for Mary Lou McDonald, Michelle O’Neill and Conor Murphy as they walked into a hall to explain the “deal” to Sinn Féin activists.

The “red line” of the Irish Language…well SF gave in. And in what SF say is a side deal between DUP and the British Government, there will be three more days when the British Fleg is flown. And there is the curious case of Alex Maskey as the new Speaker …with DUP support.

Carve up or Cross Community Co-Operation?

There are hopeful signs. I congratulate Christopher Stalford (DUP), a genuinely decent guy on his election to the Speaker “team” and of course Patsy McGlone (SDLP) the best kind of public representative. Its a disgrace that Patsy was not elected as Speaker.

So Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill are back as First Ministers. And to be fair, their speeches were generous and gracious.

The big problem now is the Civil Service. Steve Aiken (UUP leader) alluded to the civil servants in the public gallery. They have had three years running Norn Iron without any democratic accountability and there is now hopefully a looming battle between the the permenant civil service and the new ministers.

Will the civil servants control the ministers? Will the Ministers put some manners on the civil service? Will scores be settled?

There is …I think …support in the communities. People seem to want this Stormont thing to work. I am not convinced.

I write this and publish it as the Assembly takes a 30 minute adjournment so the new Speaker can take advice on the upcoming election of eight ministers.

The eight departments will be distributed on the following d’hondt basis.

Pick 1 : DUP (who also get Pick 3 and Pick 7)

Pick 2: Sinn Féin (who also get Pick 4 and Pick 8)

Pick 5: SDLP

Pick 6: UUP

So strictly speaking, the New Executive will have ministers from DUP (3), SF (3), SDLP (1) and UUP (1).

However the Justice ministry might go to Alliance on the gift of DUP-SF which would take a ministry from the SF allocation.

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O’Tooles: A Guide

With the co-option of Matthew O’Toole as the new SDLP MLA for South Belfast, there appears to be a lot of O’Tooles around.

My guide:

St Laurence O’Toole…Archbiship of Dublin in 12th century. Fought the Normans. Good guy.

Fintan O’Toole…jounalist who was on “Have I Got News For You”. Famous for losing an argument with the Wolfe Tones.

Peter O’Toole…Actor. Laurence of Arabia, The Ruling Class, The Lion in Winter, My Favourite Year.

Timmy O’Toole…a young boy in Springfield, USA. He was apparently trapped in a well.

Slugger O’Toole …a crewman on board the “Irish Rover” who was infected by measles and later drowned when the ship hit a rock.

Slugger O’Toole (no relation)…Norn Iron’s leading political “message board”. Has absolutely no political agenda and is not trying to arrange a merger between the DUP and Alliance Party.

Adam O’Toole…mentioned in the Bible (Genesis) as the first man created by GOD. His wife,  Eve O’Toole (nee O’Hare) was the first woman. Thus creationists can prove that the first people created by GOD were Irish. After they were thrown out of the Garden and Eden, they lived briefly in the two Irish cities mentioned in the Bible…Sod’em and Begorrah. That did not end well.

Matthew O’Toole…SDLP MLA for South Belfast. Good luck to him.

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Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream…

One of the strange things about being a political nerd is that I sometimes dream about Politics.

Last night, I dreamed  that the DUP had merged with the Alliance Party and Mick Fealty was the Press Officer.

How ridiculous is that?

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The Grand Old Duke of York?

It is a bit tangled isn’t it. I am not addressing the Epstein case (will do it later in the week when I buy some vitriol in the computer shop).

But if you attack the Monarchy, its defenders say “ah you are attacking an ordinary family such as wee Prince Charlene and Phil the Greek who cannot defend themselves”.

If on the other hand you suggest that this family are a bunch of free-loading parasites, defenders say “ah you are attacking the very institution of Monarchy”.

In other words they always win.

The consequence of THAT interview is that charities, universities and various arse-kissing companies are turning away from “Prince” Andrew. He is toxic.

He cannot be disowned by his mammy and daddy. He is still a family member.

But he has been sacked as a member of the family firm. He has stood aside from “royal duties for the forseable future” ie for ever.

This means that he will no longer be patron of this or that charity.

But what does it mean for the loyalist people in Norn Iron. They might already have smashed the commemorative mug to mark Andy’s marriage to Fergie. But Randy Andy is actually Colonel in Chief of the Royal Irish Regiment (sic) which was formed in 1990s to include the disgraced Ulster Defence Regiment.

In the finest traditions of the RIR/UDR, Andy will have to give up his role for acting disgracefully as so many of his ceremonial comrades did before.

I can see no other implications for Norn Iron. It is possible that he may own a business in Belfast as his name “Duke of York”  in the Cathedral Quarter. I call on Belfast’s feminists to picket the bar and demand it change its name.



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“We All Live In A Yellow Submarine”

Watching Steve Aiken, new Leader of the UUP interviewed by Mark Caurruthers was “car crash” television. Easily the worst interview I have ever seen.

He is in the job less than a week and I suppose we should allow for that. He was a captain of a submarine in the British Navy and maybe “car crash” is bit harsh. More accurately it was like a submarine had dived before the hatch was closed.

Those of us of a certain vintage might remember “Take Your Pick” a quiz show on Friday night which had a segment called the “Yes No Interlude”. Contestants had to survive a minute without saying “Yes”, “No” or “Know” or nod or shake their heads. This is the only explanation for Aiken avoiding giving a straight answer.

More interestingly Aiken had said that the UUP would put up a candidate in North Belfast in next month’s election. And then the loyalist paramilitaries said that this was a very bad idea as it would split the unionist vote. So now the UUP are not standing after all.

Do submarines have a reverse gear?

Is the UUP submarine “Yellow”?

It just looks “Yellow”…it is actually “Orange”.

They all like in an Orange Submarine…an Orange Submarine…an Orange Submarine.

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Meanwhile in Norn Iron…

So General Election.

I am not tempted to say that this is eighteen different elections.

At best it is maybe 50% elections and 50% coronations. The usual suspects…analysts and number crunchers on Slugger O’Toole will tell us that if these results are replicated in an Assembly Election… but of course these “First Past The Post” results will not be replicated in a “Proportional” election.

In other words, Sinn Féin supporters too cold and wet to vote on the Antrim Coast Road are not signalling that SF will lose their Assembly seat. Likewise indifferent SDLP supporters on the Glenshane Pass are not signalling the loss of the seat at Stormont. Meanwhile Alliance are on a roll, they will be better motivated, even in places where their representation is not good.

They did well in the local and Euro elections earlier this year and strutting about like roosters. Yet they end the year slithering about on their bellies like snakes in the grass.

Alliance do better out of Tribalism than any other political party. We will look at that in another post.

But where is Unionism today?

Well Unionism is up when Nationalism is down and vice versa.

And Unionism has been “down” before. The Fall of Stormont in 1972, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Good Friday Agreement.

But I don’t think I have ever seen them more down than in the last month. Is it terminal? Is it the Fall of Unionist Berlin? The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down? The US Embassy in Saigon? Or the Ceasescu Moment?

It depends. Will Unionism nearly drown next month? Or will Unionism nearly be saved? It depends on a few hundred votes in very few places.

Thanx to what everybody knew already and what Journalism has recently chosen to confirm, it is now a simply a fact that loyalist paramilitaries and some elements of the “Security Services” were on the same side. “Collusion” is really the wrong word as it suggests an overlap of interests. It is much more than Collusion. It is not about “bad apples”.

But the interests of some elements in RUC, UDR extended into loyal orders, church halls, “big” houses in rural areas of Norn Iron. The loyalist paramilitaries in Armagh for example were very different from the more obvious thugs in the backstreets of Belfast.

For years now, mainstream unionism has presented itself as “respectable”. Even when a vicious party, the DUP became the market leader, the DUP form of unionism was presented as mainstream by people who really should know better. When a mainstream party moves to the right, it loses the right to be considered acceptable…eg The American Republican Party has lost its right to be considered mainstream.

But after making far too much of their accidental brush with Power, after supporting the Tories in 2017, the DUP have been sold out by Boris Johnson. Do I feel sorry for them? No.

So DUP, the front line of unionism is in retreat and moves back towards the UUP and the UUP retreat in disarray and move towards the third line of unionism, the Alliance Party. “Liberal unionists” look to Alliance for rescue.

The Alliance Party was always a coalition. If you look at the three Alliance ministers in the first Stormont power-sharing government in 1973, the clues are there. Oliver Napier was what we considered to be a “Castle Catholic” (American readers will be familiar with the term “Uncle Tom”), Bob Cooper was a liberal unionist and Basil Glass was a churchy (Methodist I think) nice guy.

The Alliance Party personifies “letsgetalongerism” but they can only be understood thru this coalition. LetsGetAlongerism is not, as it might appear benign nice people just getting along. Rather it is an acceptance of doing nothing to rock the political boat, an acceptance of the status quo. And the status quo is unionist.

Despite protestations that the Alliance Party is “agnostic” on the position of Norn Iron, it is unionist. That is the bottom line.

“Liberal” unionist voters deserting UUP and rushing to Alliance is a mixed blessing because it distorts the carefully crafted ambiguity.

LetsGetAlongerism is the last refuge of unionists.

Short term gain as in the local elections and Euros. But a “liberal” unionist  (Paula Bradshaw) defecting to Alliance is good for Alliance. But five Bradshaws or ten Bradshaws…now that is a problem.

Coalition is at once a strength and yet a potential weakness. So that a coalition of liberal unionists, castle Catholics and churchy nice men and women is already joined by a fourth member …self-styled “progressives” who actually want to see some change in Norn Iron and even beyond.

The great success of the Alliance Party has been to persuade people, including of course a friendly media that they are above the tribal politics of Norn Iron.

But the truth is that they are the third tribe.

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