Yet again we have new talks at Stormont and for the most part they are on the same issues. The media and some of the smaller parties are not unusually blaming Sinn Fein for the stalemate. Well some are blaming Sinn Fein and the DUP while ignoring the failures of the British Government, and ignoring the Irish Government altogether.
I say the same issues because for the most part they are and for the most part they were already agreed, but the DUP have refused to implement them and been provided the cover of silence by the Governments. New issues have also emerged but they are issues that require urgency and it’s only sensible to try and find a consensus on a way forward. Brexitt to be specific but I’ll come back to that.
Since the collapse of last weeks talks and Sinn Feins refusal to nominate, they have been criticised by the smaller parties for decisions made by Civil Servants. I would ask those parties what exactly they are suggesting? Should Sinn Fein nominate and go back into an Executive without any of the outstanding issues being resolved? To do so they would be reneging on their election commitments and coincidentally so would the other parties.
lets not forget the cause of the election and the background behind it. All parties with the exception of Sinn Fein called for the First Minister to resign over her handling of the RHI scheme. Sinn Fein tried to keep the Assembly up and running by firstly approaching the First Minister privately and then through an amendment which in real terms offered the DUP an escape route. When both were rejected they had no choice but to accede to the demands for elections by their own base, the wider public and indeed some of the other parties. At that point Martin McGuinness shut the shop and in doing so outlined the many examples of DUP bigotry, political mismanagement, arrogance and alleged corruption.
Martin by no means mentioned all of the various examples but he did make it clear there had to be a new approach to governing, that was inclusive and that deals made were expected to be upheld.
So far Sinn Fein have maintained this position and I believe rightly so. I can see no logic at all in returning to the Assembly without a deal that resolves the outstanding issues. To do so would only guarantee another collapse and probably pretty quickly.
Just to outline some of the issues that Sinn Fein and most if not all of the other parties have taken issue with.
Edwin Poots held up the first attempt at Council mergers at considerable cost to all of us by interfering in the boundary process while he was a Councillor and the Minister responsible for the mergers. In any other jurisdiction that is a breach of the Ministerial Code and a clear conflict of interest. All Parties opposed.
Edwin Poots as Health Minister imposed a ban on Gay Men donating blood in breach of Section 75 of the Equality Legislation and a court ruling. All Parties opposed.
Jim Wells claimed children in same sex marriages were more likely to be abused. All parties outraged.
Nelson McCausland as DSD Minister overseen the Red Sky corruption fiasco and again no sanction while in breach of Ministerial Code and conflict of interest. All parties outraged.
NAMA – Both the then First Minister Peter Robinson and Finance Minister Sammy Wilson nominate business men to the NAMA board, giving them a direct influence on decisions which were of no benefit to the Public (US) and the only beneficiaries were Cerberus. All parties outraged.
Misuse of the Petition of Concern on numerous occasions but most flagrantly in relation to Marriage Equality. Again denying the democratic process and opposed by almost all parties.
Blocking changes in Women’s Reproductive rights in relation to proposals by the Justice Minister on FFA. Again most parties supporting the change.
Blocking and announcing there would never be an Acht na Gaeilge despite previous agreements. Arlene Fosters refusal to follow EU legislation on the language while DETI Minister and Paul Givan announcing funding block on Irish Bursaries Scheme. Important to include here the blatant ignorance of elected representatives, not exclusively Gregory Campbell who repeatedly insulted the Irish language community. Again most of the other parties claim to support progress on this issue.
The RHI scheme overseen and managed/mismanaged by the then DETI Minister Arlene Foster, and continued interference in the scheme when she assumed the position of First Minister. This was a £480 million scandal and while we have heard from the DUP that they will cap this to reduce the impact, as we speak the cost remains the same. Indeed the costs may well increase with inspections, investigations, court cases, elections etc, all with no evidence to say the original estimate of £480 million can be reduced. All parties outraged and opposed and no change.
Then we have the DUP support for Brexitt which all other parties opposed, with the exception of People Before Profit who supported Brexitt for entirely different reasons. By extension the DUP have supported leaving the single market and the customs union. This will, no matter what anyone tells you mean a hard border which will cripple cross border business and agriculture in particular. Well it will unless the parties reach a consensus here for special designated status which the DUP are against and the other parties support.
As for the urgency to get Stormont up and running again, I agree. All the more reason for parties who hold common ground positions to speak with one voice. To simply lay blame on Sinn Fein for refusing to nominate can undermine the integrity of the smaller parties who on most of these issues, share the same view. It calls in to question the support they’ve shown on the common ground issues such as Marriage Equality.
Also on the urgency issue, we are hearing criticism of Sinn Fein for creating a funding crisis and decisions being made around youth funding, health etc. The civil service are not supposed to make political decisions, but don’t be fooled that decisions taken this week are anything other than political interference and self protectionism within the civil service. Policy decisions and priorities put in place should continue to be funded until the Locally elected politicians decide otherwise. This mad rush by senior civil servants to cut funding, cut jobs etc is not necessary. At least not yet, and if you think you’ve trust issues with politicians you’ll get your eyes opened when the back room boys (intentionally gender specific) go to town.