Posted by: the watchmen | May 14, 2008

Open letter to Peter Robinson–Ed Curran, Editor in Chief, Belfast Telegraph.

Mr Robinson who  has recently replaed Dr Paisley as both Dup boss and First minister of the maladministration at Stormont is certainly challenged here!

Ed Curran: Is that a poisoned chalice behind you, Peter?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Dear Peter, as you prepare to become First Minister of Northern Ireland, can I direct a couple of fairly important questions to you? Can you lead the Stormont Executive to survive another year? And even if you manage that, can you turn it into a decisive rather than a dithering government for Northern Ireland?

 

I pose these questions because there are now a number of extremely worrying and potentially destructive issues looming on the horizon. And they are emerging, just as Ian Paisley enjoys his farewells and leaves you with what might prove a very poisoned chalice.

What are these issues? First and foremost, Ms Caitriona Ruane and the future of this province’s secondary education system. Secondly, the budget which you set a few months ago and which remains an extraordinarily tall order to meet. Indeed, if I were Nigel Dodds, I might think twice about taking over the reins from you as Minister of Finance, given that he didn’t set the budget but will have the unpalatable task of ensuring that everybody sticks to it. Another poisoned chalice, Mr Dodds?

Thirdly, how and when are the powers for policing and justice to be transferred from London to Belfast, and possibly into the hands of an ex-IRA bomber as the new minister responsible?

Fourthly, not a life and death issue but still a big test of you and your Democratic Unionist Party. What are you going to do about our proposed new sports stadium? Is it to be the Maze? Or will you and your party cop out?

Fifthly, and maybe most important of all, can coalition government really work effectively and decisively at all? Or is it simply a recipe for procrastination? For parties so preoccupied with looking over their shoulders at hardliners behind them, that nothing gets done and no big matters are settled?

Now what would make Stormont politicians think like that? Simple. The spectre of a Westminster election in the next two years in which some might lose their seats. That’s what did for the unfortunate David Trimble and his Ulster Unionist Party at the last election and this time around, it might be the turn of the DUP and Sinn Fein.

We happen to have a coalition government at Stormont dominated by two of the most authoritarian and dogmatic parties in Europe. They were founded on extremism and intransigence. They have little or nothing in common other than the English language and a belated recognition that confrontation is no answer to our problems. Even on bread and butter politics, many on one side look right-wing and conservative, many on the other, old Labour lefties. The row over Ms Ruane encapsulates much in this division.

The public remains unconvinced, judging from the results of last week’s opinion poll published by this newspaper.

The outside world may jump up and down with appreciation of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness sharing power.

But the locals aren’t.

Many people are strangely subdued about Stormont. They are in two minds as to whether it is worth having.

To use a well-worn clich£, to these people it may appear as all duck and no dinner. They can’t point to any great benefits so far, other than, perhaps, your decision to freeze household rates and postpone water charges. And, even that is questionable given that we need so much money to run the other services — most notably health and social services.

But first things first. Ms Ruane is centre-stage and very soon now she says she will reveal her plans to you and her other Executive colleagues. I’d love to be a fly on your Stormont wall for that meeting, as I’m sure would the 48% of Northern Ireland people who regard education as their number one priority, according to the Telegraph’s poll.

Maybe she will surprise us all with an incredible last minute adjustment or about-turn. That seems most unlikely.

Rather she looks as if she has dug a deep hole, aided and abetted by her Sinn Fein colleagues, a hole from which she cannot escape without losing personal and party credibility. We will soon know where she really stands.

Your big behind-closed-doors meeting with Ms Ruane is likely to lead to a public bust-up between your party and hers. And it could prove so serious as to threaten the very future of the Executive you are about to take over.

The 11-plus test may be a stress and a strain to many but it will be nothing compared to that facing you and the Executive in the next month over what replaces it. It seems to me there are a number of scenarios.

She could come to the Executive, stick to her unacceptable plans, say she cannot find any consensus, and resign on a point of principle. Not likely, I think, since Sinn Fein would be painted as a party that cannot carry through its promises.

Alternatively, everyone could recognise the need to preserve the power-sharing consensus ideal, go into conclave, and come up with a compromise.

Or, Ms Ruane could present such a complicated set of proposals (as is very likely) that confusion then reigns and no one, not even the grammar schools, understands the outcome.

Finally, there is always the option of political horse-trading. What can the Democratic Unionist Party offer Mr Adams and Sinn Fein to get them out of the hole dug by Ms Ruane’s spade?

Answer, possibly some early deal on transfering policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland in response to some climb-down by Ms Ruane.

That doesn’t seem to me to be all that principled but I wouldn’t rule it out, if the very future of your Stormont Executive is at stake. To date, that Executive has been more political window-dressing than any real substance. The big decisions, the difficult decisions, remain on too many back-burners but they cannot forever. Now is the moment. Now is the test. First up, Ms Caitriona Ruane. Can coalition government in Northern Ireland survive her?

Over to you, Mr Robinson and good luck.

Yours, Ed

 

 

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