Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 13 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Allister and McGuinness trade barbs

Martin McGuinness during yesterday's session

You wouldn't know from his facial expression, but Jim Allister definitely has the luck of the (forgive me, Jim) Irish.

Jim doesn't do jovial, and he probably doesn't do the lottery, but should he ever suggest any numbers, I for one will be taking a punt.

Three times in just over a week the Assembly has staged spontaneous questions to ministers – and three times Jim's name has come out of the hat.

And in two out of the three ballots the Traditional Unionist Voice leader's name was first.

I don't know what the odds are on one person out of 108 getting a triple whammy like that. But he has put it to good use. First came last week when Peter Robinson's attempt to smear Allister over false allegations of selling land to republicans backfired – big time – on the First Minister.

The next day Jim was back attempting to test Justice Minister David Ford's mettle over prisoners released on licence.

Mr Robinson was himself back in the chamber yesterday, his visage downcast, and could have been forgiven for feeling relieved that Allister was about to tackle the Deputy First Minister instead of him.

But time ran out before the North Antrim MLA got putting his supplementary response to his original question.

There had been speculation among the Press pack that Jim would ask about special adviser Paul Kavanagh, now out of a job thanks to the Private Member's Bill Allister got through earlier this year.

But no. Allister instead intended to get much more personal with Mr McGuinness.

Referring to the "pious platitudes" of McGuinness' speech last month in Warrington, the TUV leader asked whether at any time Mr McGuinness, from his position as a leader inside the republican movement, had given any help to the police to catch the "child killers" of Warrington, or the Birmingham bombing "or any other crime".

The Deputy First Minister wasn't for biting, but said the comments referred to the past which is among the issues being dealt with in the Haass talks which he hoped could be resolved.

But he got his own barb in, calling it "quite interesting" that Mr Allister had been seen in the vicinity of UVF members at a recent demonstration in north Belfast. The deputy principal speaker called time before Allister could retaliate.

The quizzing of McGuinness continued, however, when the 15-minute 'topical' questions section spilled over into the formal oral session, where ministers have advance sight of the questions. And it was then the Deputy First Minister warned that there could be no development of the Maze site unless it was on the basis of a deal his party struck with the DUP on the peace centre – a project the DUP has now abandoned.

He did not spell out what he meant, but it was thought he was referring to infrastructure including new roads and a possible train halt.

While the Royal Ulster Agricultural Show can go ahead next year again on the site, there can be no wider development unless it is on the basis of the peace centre deal, he argued. Mr Robinson was still sitting opposite, grim-faced.

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