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Parties unite to put the boot into 'Hokey-Cokey' DUP ministers

By Noel McAdam

Published 20/10/2015

Jo-Anne Dobson of the UUP
Jo-Anne Dobson of the UUP

Stormont parties have ganged up to accuse DUP ministers of breaching their pledge of office with their continual resignations and reappointments.

Ulster Unionists, Sinn Fein and the SDLP joined to attack Peter Robinson's tactics designed to highlight that Stormont cannot pretend it is business as usual during the on-going inter-party talks.

The parties backed an Alliance motion which also said the DUP strategy - ministers taking up office and then leaving again - had further damaged public faith in the Executive and Assembly.

DUP Members stayed away from the discussion - as they have from almost all Assembly events for more than a month - but turned up to vote.

But they were defeated by 54 votes to 34.

Opening the debate, Alliance's Chris Lyttle said he believed DUP Health Minister Simon Hamilton, Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell and Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey had broken their pledges of office.

"The fact that ministers are accepting office with no intention of attending Executive meetings or North-South Ministerial Council is a serious concern," he said.

"I believe that the ministerial code of conduct requires ministers to be accountable for activities within their responsibility, their stewardship of public funds and the extent to which key performance targets are being met by their department."

And his Alliance colleague Trevor Lunn commented: "The image of this place as a legislature is at an all-time low.

"The population is either indifferent, critical or couldn't care less."

He said the focus on the murder of Kevin McGuigan, rather than that of Gerard 'Jock' Davison showed: "It's pick and choose... tactical stuff."

Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson said the "in-out, Hokey-Cokey, Yo-Yo ministers" had only further lowered the public reputation of the Assembly.

Her party colleague Adrian Cochrane-Watson said the UUP sole minister Danny Kennedy had resigned "clearly and cleanly", while in contrast the DUP's decision had been one motivated by "self-preservation".

Sinn Fein's Rosie McCorley said the absence of Health Minister Mr Hamilton in particular had "turned farcical, but for the many patients and others who rely on the health service it's not farcical, it's just a calamity".

Her party colleague Fra McCann said the DUP tactic had "not only made this place a laughing stock, but has left everyone in this House open to ridicule".

The SDLP's Fearghal McKinney said it appeared DUP MLAs were happy enough to go to the radio stations but not the debating chamber, effectively deceiving the public with a smokescreen allowing ministers to turn up for five minutes to do a little business.

Before the debate, the DUP chief whip Peter Weir conceded that the resignations policy was "clearly seen as being messy" but argued: "We're more interested in achieving an outcome rather than in the process.

"We are in this situation because there was a man murdered on the streets and the chief constable indicated that the murder was carried out by individuals who are connected up with an organisation (the IRA) which was connected up with a party in government (Sinn Fein)," he told the BBC.

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