Shocking lack of sweetness and light at the House of Fun


Well, it’s all go at Stormont, isn’t it? That was some day yesterday, and while it isn’t by any means the beginning of the end for the New Dispensation, it does at least tell us that the underlying tensions here are still very much present.

In the morning we had the discussion of the Acht Gaeilge, in which culture minister Edwin Poots (DUP, Lagan Valley) basically told Gaeilgeoirí they could whistle for their language act. He hummed and hawed a bit about costs, but the essential part of his statement was that there was insufficient cross-community consensus – in other words, the Prods wouldn’t wear it. He did however flag up his acceptance of the importance of Irish and his willingness to fund discreet projects which don’t scare the Prods.

This delighted Dave McNarry (OUP, Strangford), who has spent a very long time in unionist politics while making minimal impact. Dave, who gets very annoyed if you call him Dáithí, has recently found his niche in life by issuing apocalyptic warnings of how the New Dispensation is going to force innocent Prods to speak Irish. Less impressed were two of the Assembly’s more fluent Gaeilgeoirí, culture committee chair Barry McElduff (PSF, Mid-Ulster) and Dominic Bradley (SDLP, Newry and Armagh), both of whom gave off about how the Brits had promised a language act at St Andrew’s and the DUP was reneging on the settlement. This buttered no parsnips with Pootsie, who noted the irony of nationalist MLAs appealing to Westminster, and further noted that Gaelic was a devolved matter in any case.

So that was the morning. In the afternoon, social development minister Margaret Ritchie (SDLP, South Down) made her statement on the Conflict Transformation Initiative, the rather swanky name for a £1.2m state subsidy to the UDA arranged by then proconsul Peter Hain before the restoration of Stormont. After the UDA had shown no signs of cleaning up its act, Margaret warned the boys that they had sixty days to do so or they risked losing their cash. Since the sixty days have expired and the UDA, well, is still the UDA, Margaret announced that she was stopping the CTI and would seek ways to divert the cash into deprived Protestant areas. I say, good on you Margaret, and I would further add that if you want to help working-class Protestant areas, some of which are suffering super-deprivation, the last thing you want to do is to bankroll the loyalist paramilitaries.

As soon as this statement was made, finance minister and would-be Cardinal Richelieu of Stormont, Peter Robinson (DUP, East Belfast), was on his feet roaring that Margaret had acted ultra vires and was in breach of the ministerial code of conduct. How this was so, Robbo did not say, although speaker Willie Hay (DUP, Foyle) was flustered enough to call an adjournment and consult with civil service head honcho Nigel Hamilton. Margaret also took a bit of flak from PSF MLAs, although their more crabwise approach probably has something to do with the underlying tension between their desire to do down the SDLP, and republican voters in places like North Belfast being none too keen on the enormous state subsidies being handed to the death squads.

Which should all make tomorrow’s Executive meeting quite interesting.

Also at Stormont, the competition to be the North’s new Victims and Survivors Commissioner has been reopened, and applicants will be interviewed by the Chuckle Brothers themselves. This raises the problem, however, of how you could find a commissioner who was acceptable on a cross-community basis, given that everybody is keen to claim victimhood these days. I’ve heard it suggested that, taking the First and Deputy First Ministers as a precedent, two co-commissioners, one unionist and one republican, could be appointed. But this is surely not inclusive enough, as the loyalist paramilitaries would have to be included as well. What odds can I get on Hard Bap as an alternate commissioner?

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