Our elected representatives wax eloquent

It’s about time we took a look at what the folks on the hill have been up to lately. Sadly, there’s not been much great controversy up at Stormont this last week, but that’s no reason not to peek in on our leaders. So we did get a debate on the Rates (Regional Rates) Order, which led to some rather ratty exchanges between Stephen Farry (Alliance, North Down) and other members:

Mr Weir: Will the Member give way?

Dr Farry: Go ahead.

Mr Weir: I thank the Member for giving way. I assume that he will not accuse me of being an advocate of social justice.

The Minister of Finance and Personnel: That is a scandalous suggestion.

Mr Weir: Yes; I know that we are covered by the libel laws in here, but to accuse me of that may be going a little bit far.

And again, the North Down connection creeps in:

Mr Weir: Does the Minister accept that not everyone in North Down is entirely happy to have to pay more money?

Dr Farry: Speak for yourself.

Mr Weir: I am certainly not happy to be paying more. If Mr Farry has a great pool of people who are keen to pay more, maybe he could extract that money from them. I do not know whether he is calling at Alliance doors in North Down, but at the doors that I call at in North Down, I have not been inundated with people wanting to pay higher rates.

The Minister of Finance and Personnel: Maybe Alliance Party supporters are so well off that they do not need to worry about local taxation, and that may be reflected in Mr Farry’s position.

My word, you would almost think there was an election coming up. And this debate provided an occasion for that unique Stormont institution, the cross-community vote:

Mr Deputy Speaker: Before I put the Question, I remind Members that the motion requires cross-community support.

Question put.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 69; Noes 6.

AYES

Nationalist:

Mr Adams, Ms Anderson, Mr Attwood, Mr Boylan, Mrs M Bradley, Mr P J Bradley, Mr Brady, Mr Butler, Mr W Clarke, Mr Dallat, Mr Doherty, Mr Durkan, Mr Gallagher, Mrs D Kelly, Mr Leonard , Mr A Maginness, Mr A Maskey, Mr P Maskey, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Mrs McGill, Mr McGlone, Mr M McGuinness, Mr McHugh, Mr McKay, Mr Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O’Loan, Mrs O’Neill, Mr P Ramsey, Ms S Ramsey.

Unionist:

Mr Armstrong, Mr Beggs, Mr Bell, Mr Bresland, Lord Browne, Mr Buchanan, Mr Campbell, Mr T Clarke, Mr Cobain, Rev Dr Robert Coulter, Mr Craig, Mr Cree, Mr Easton, Mr Elliott, Mr Gardiner, Mr Irwin, Mr Kinahan, Mr McCallister, Mr I McCrea, Dr W McCrea, Mr McFarland, Miss McIlveen, Mr McNarry, Mr McQuillan, Lord Morrow, Mr Paisley Jnr, Mr Poots, Mr G Robinson, Mr K Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Savage, Mr Shannon, Mr Spratt, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells , Mr S Wilson.

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr McQuillan and Mr Weir.

NOES

Other:

Dr Farry, Mr Ford, Ms Lo, Mr Lunn, Mr McCarthy, Mr Neeson.

Tellers for the Noes: Dr Farry and Mr McCarthy.

Total votes          75   Total Ayes          69   (92%)

Nationalist Votes 32   Nationalist Ayes  32   (100%)

Unionist Votes     37   Unionist Ayes     37   (100%)

Other Votes          6   Other Ayes           0   (0%)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved (with cross-community support):

That the Rates (Regional Rates) Order (Northern Ireland) 2010 be affirmed.

At least this points up rather starkly who the opposition is at Stormont. Although that may be tougher to sustain if Fordy does get made justice minister.

We then moved to the question of presumption of advancement. Take it away, Sammy:

The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Mr S Wilson): I beg to move

That this Assembly endorses the principle of the extension to Northern Ireland of the provisions of the Equality Bill dealing with the abolition of the presumption of advancement.

That should clear the Benches fairly quickly.

You said it, Sammy. This is a rather abstruse bit of law that has to do with transfers of money and property between parent and child, which the distinct legal system of Norn Iron has hitherto treated differently according to whether the donor is the father or mother. Therefore this is some legislative tidying up aimed at bringing that loophole into compliance with British equality legislation and the European Convention on Human Rights. If you really want to dig deeper, there’s detail in Sammy’s speech, but as the man himself says

I have kept the explanation of the issue as brief and comprehensible as possible. I turn now to the motion under consideration. The reason why we are here and why some in the Chamber may still be awake — I am amazed that so many people have remained in the Chamber — is that the UK Government wrote to me last November seeking my agreement to the GB Equality Bill’s containing a provision that would abolish the residual elements of the doctrine of presumption of advancement in Northern Ireland. Since trust law and property law are devolved matters, the Westminster Parliament will not usually legislate in the transferred field without the consent of the Assembly.

However, there is one man who loves a bit of abstruse legalism and that’s Peter Weir (DUP, North Down):

Mr Weir: I support the legislative consent motion. On the streets of North Down, which the Minister mentioned earlier, when the conversation moves away from the Rates (Regional Rates) Order (Northern Ireland) 2010 and the desire to pay more money, people talk about very little other than the presumption of advancement and this legislative consent motion…

The legislative consent motion concerns trust law. When I was a law student at Queen’s University, there was an old joke — I use that term very loosely — that we would be subjected to a debate on recent developments in trust law. Given the silence around the Chamber, I suspect that that was lost on most Members. Most trust law dates from the nineteenth century, although the joke perhaps indicates the lack of wit in the law faculty 20-odd years ago.

You know, when the Mock The Week team were looking for a replacement for Frankie Boyle, I’m amazed they didn’t shortlist Peter Weir. Few MLAs are as reliably side-splitting.

Mr McNarry: Ulster Unionists believe in equality, because, as a party of civil and religious liberty, we see important protections in it for the citizen. The fact that the gap between rich and poor is at its widest since the Second World War highlights the fact that to tackle inequality we must also tackle its causes.

Eh? Is David McNarry (UCUNF, Strangford) about to launch into a long and rambling discourse on equality? Well, he’ll have a go…

Mr Bell: On a point of order, is the object of the debate not to speak on the subject?

Mr Deputy Speaker: I was going to draw the Member’s attention to returning to the motion.

Mr McNarry: It is a very wide-ranging subject, on which I am sure the Speaker will give a ruling. However, I was getting to that, and I am sorry that I tried the novice’s patience. I just wanted to say —

Mr Bell: You are past your sell-by date.

Mr McNarry: You just be careful, now, my fellow Member from Strangford. When you want to be frivolous and when you do not is a matter for yourself —

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I ask the Member to come to the subject of the motion. I also ask for all remarks to be made through the Chair.

Compared to what Belfast Corporation used to be like, we’re practically in Miss Manners territory. This blog hereby repeats its call for Willie O’Dea to be brought north to enliven proceedings.

But at least friend of this blog Jim Shannon (DUP, Strangford) was at hand to give members the benefit of his homespun wisdom:

Hooiniver es bes usual prattick, i Norlin Airlan thaire bes an anomaly an’ aa isnae es ye wud alloo hit shud bae. This notion applies adae wi’ transfers fae a faither tae a wean bit hit dusnae apply fer transfers fae a mither tae a wean – I thon case the mither wud bae fit tae claim the intherest o’ ootcum o’ investment.

I don’t think I could have put it better myself, Jim. And indeed, Sammy Wilson was obviously struck by this contribution, and returned to it in his summing up:

I worried about Mr Shannon. It took me long enough to get my head around the presumption of advancement and the presumption of trust, which is what I think he said. Mr Shannon went further; he started to debate the issue in Ulster Scots. I found it difficult enough to understand his contribution in English, let alone having it conveyed to me in Ulster Scots. I will not address his point, other than to note that he welcomed the equal treatment of men and women when it comes to passing assets on to their families.

By the way, did I cast an aspersion on the good manners of MLAs? Some at least retain some old-fashioned courtesy:

Mrs D Kelly: Will the Member give way?

Mr Bell: I will if I get an extra minute to speak. How could I refuse to give way to you?

And at that, we will draw a discreet veil over proceedings…

18 Comments

  1. Liam said,

    February 27, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    Though it’s only when you see them on TV droning through this stuff that you can appreciate the full horror of it.

    On the plus side the Nationalist / Unionist / Other categories are a useful counter-argument to anyone who suggests that it’s not a sectarian parliament for a sectarian statelet.

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    February 27, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Anyone who thinks otherwise should be strapped to a chair and made to watch an hour of Stormont Live. But I think that’s even banned in Guantanamo on grounds of cruel and unusual treatment.

  3. Phil said,

    February 28, 2010 at 12:25 am

    I found it difficult enough to understand his contribution in English, let alone having it conveyed to me in Ulster Scots.

    Doesn’t anyone take U-S seriously enough to denounce the honourable gentleman’s racism and Scotophobia? Not that I’m saying it would be a good idea, just that it would follow logically from the high esteem in which the language is held.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      February 28, 2010 at 12:36 am

      It’s symptomatic that even a DUP minister isn’t taking it seriously. Maybe Nelson McCausland should have a word with Sammy.

      • harry monro said,

        March 1, 2010 at 3:52 pm

        While I don’t think dodgy quangos could ever save cultures that are dying, I actually regret the passing of these localisms, whether its in the British Isles or elsewhere in the world. That a loyalist minister can take the piss is hardly surprising, anything that strays from the Queens English must be suspect. Lower class boot lickers always look up to those who speak proper. Now how much of Ulster Scots is deep rooted in the history of “a people” or a recently invented attempt to construct a nation is not the issue is it; after all nations/ethnicities etc are constructions.

      • Phil said,

        March 1, 2010 at 10:50 pm

        On the contrary, I think “how much of Ulster Scots is deep rooted in the history of “a people” or a recently invented attempt to construct a nation” is precisely the issue. I mean, I’m sure there are lots of people out there who talk in what’s more or less Ulster Scots, and good for them – like you, I think the world would be the poorer for the loss of those ways of talking. But Ulster Scots as a language in its own right, with a single distinctive grammar and vocabulary, is an eccentric hobby that’s turned into a grant-sucking racket. I hold no brief for Sammy Wilson – oh, how I hold no brief for Sammy Wilson – but I think in this case he’s speaking on behalf of the plain Prods of Ireland; either that, or speaking from a less eccentric branch of the grantocracy.

  4. February 28, 2010 at 12:40 am

    Maybe Stephen Farry should tell that to his party colleague on Coleraine Borough Council who would rather see people drown in the sea in Portrush than raise rates by more than 4.98%.

  5. WorldbyStorm said,

    February 28, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    They’re a little stilted yet, but give them 70 years like some of the institutions south of the border and there’ll be no stopping them! 🙂

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      February 28, 2010 at 8:17 pm

      They were more entertaining when they were less polite. The reason Mairtin O Muilleoir’s book on the Dome of Delight was such compulsive reading was that you really couldn’t make up some of the events at City Hall. But the old days of Tommy Patton and Herbie Ditty and Big Frankie Millar are gone, and we shall not see their likes again.

  6. March 1, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    when DUP, SDLP, SF & SDLP (who else) vote together in this way, why can’t they start to form a single capitalist party, e.g. an NUP or probably later NUA?

  7. harry monro said,

    March 2, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    But Phil, when is a language a language, or a dialect? I have no doubt that Scots itself is dying out but its always been mocked and jeered at by the Edinburgh elite who prefer to speak the Queens English with a cute accent that appeals to the London media. There are many things that my taxespay for, a few street signs, web sites (that amuse) hardly keep me awake at night. Now if some loons start constructing a mythlogical nation descended from the lost tribes of Israel then I get worried. Some people moan about subsidies to try and preserve the Scots Gaels’ language, in the long term the money might be “wasted” as it dies a slow death but so what I say.

  8. Pope Epopt said,

    March 3, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    I speak a language, you speak a dialect, as someone said.

    Ulster-Scots seems a pretty harmless pastime – did not the great Hugh McDairmid write some tremendous poetry in a similar dialect? There may be a young Hugh out there waiting to burst upon us.

    • ejh said,

      March 3, 2010 at 8:41 pm

      The saying is in fact “a language is a dialect with an army” which suggests that Loyalist decommissiong may not have been such a good idea for the Ulster Prods…

    • Phil said,

      March 3, 2010 at 11:40 pm

      Ulster-Scots seems a pretty harmless pastime

      Surely. It’s the earnestness that grates – that and the state funding.

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        March 4, 2010 at 12:36 am

        Harmless?! Have you ever heard Nelson McCausland play the accordion?

  9. Pope Epopt said,

    March 3, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    The googly gods have provided.

    Treat yourself to a reading of A Drunk Man Looks at a Thistle here in all it’s crackly distorted glory as an antidote to lads and lassies of Stormont.

    • harry monro said,

      March 3, 2010 at 9:40 pm

      pleasing links Pope, I tried to follow your examle and find some readings in Gaelic, didn’t find them in my first try


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