Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

Is Stormont a success so far? Here's what they say

So what do you think of it so far? That was the question the Belfast Telegraph put to prominent local people about the first 100 days of devolution.



As expected, there was a range of views on the record of the new Assembly and power-sharing Executive since May 8.

Some had warm words of praise for the DUP-Sinn Fein double act that had seemed so unlikely just months earlier.

Predictably, there was criticism from some quarters too.

Others, meanwhile, suggested that key issues and questions have still to be tackled.

Ulster peer and veteran Shankill community worker Baroness Blood, for example, said the initial feelings in May were of shock that the deal had happened at all.

"Getting over that, I think we have watched carefully what's been happening and it looks like it's working," she said.

"But people on the street will still say that they haven't got to the hard issues yet.

"It's almost like meet and greet at this stage."

The Baroness added: "Take education, for instance. The two major parties are hugely divided on the way forward. One's for selection and one's not. That will be interesting."

Acclaimed Belfast playwright Martin Lynch said he is "very positive" about the progress of the Assembly so far.

And the author of hit plays The History of the Troubles (Accordin' to my Da) and Dockers is particularly impressed with the efforts made by the First and Deputy First Ministers during their first three months in post.

"I think Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness have behaved and acted brilliantly," he said.

"I am particularly delighted at Ian Paisley's reconciliatory tone since he was elected First Minister. I think the man's entire career has been in the opposite direction. He has made speeches three or four times, major speeches, that sound to me very reconciliatory. That has been tremendous."

Mr Lynch said he believed that those working in the Assembly had done " great jobs".

He said: "I don't necessarily agree with everybody there politically, but it looks very good at the moment and augurs very well for the future. I just hope it stays that way. In places like this where we are a dysfunctional community and have been for many years, just to become functional again is a major achievement.

"Just building the four walls and roof of a house at this stage is a fantastic achievement, no matter what decorations may or may not be inside it."

Anthony McIntyre, former IRA prisoner and writer, is not exactly bowled over by the Stormont experience to date.

"The whole thing has been so inconsequential I hadn't noticed it's been 100 days," he said.

"I've been greatly underwhelmed by it. There have been a couple of things I've noticed - the body language between Paisley and McGuinness has been amazing.

"The battle a day that Adams promised hasn't transpired. You can see the sheer servility in the body language.

"They're delighted that Paisley isn't being rough with them. They probably dread Peter Robinson taking over because he'd be less genial, more bureaucratic and more efficient.

"I've seen no difference whatsoever in my daily life, except the news is more boring.

"You can go a month without reading the papers and you haven't missed anything.

"It's a big sleep now. The British State objectives have been secured. The British will put up with their general incompetence as long as the place doesn't go back to war.

"You know, Sinn Fein denied being British government ministers, but if you look at Paisley, Poots and Robinson, they sure seem like British government ministers. If they're British government ministers, what does that make Sinn Fein?"

By contrast, former DUP figure Jim Allister said the score sheet from the first 100 days showed a significant win for republicans.

"The obscenity of clinging to an illegal Army Council and to government office at one and the same time continues. Nor, has it brought us a scintilla of further delivery by Sinn Fein," the MEP argued.

"They can still cherry pick over policing: refusing to back other than civic policing, condemning lawful arrests in terrorist-related crimes, lambasting the attempt to extradite Bernadette McAliskey's daughter to Germany, parade the streets of Belfast with replica rifles.

"For all its bluster, the Executive has spectacularly failed to wring a meaningful package from the Treasury. Hence, recourse to the short-termism of selling off the family silver."

On the economic front, Wilfred Mitchell from the Federation of Small Businesses said: "From the point of view of the Federation of Small Businesses we are encouraged by what we have seen in the Assembly's first 100 days.

"The economy is now regarded as being centrally important to the long-term prosperity and stability of Northern Ireland and has cross-party policy consensus on what needs to be done."

He added: "The new Assembly has meant greater access to Ministers and Departments for organisations like ourselves, giving us the opportunity to get our message across directly to those in the seats of power."

John Corey from Northern Ireland's biggest trade union, Nipsa, pointed to the first joint statement by the First Ministers, which included a commitment to excellence in public services.

Mr Corey said: "This was encouraging but to deliver excellent public services will require all civil and public service staff to be treated fairly.

"If the latter is the test, there have been positives and negatives but it is too early to assess progress.

"We remain committed to work constructively with the Executive Ministers in the interest of all working people."

Lisa Fagan from green pressure group Friends of the Earth said it is awaiting the Executive's decision on two issues close to its heart: action on carbon emissions and whether Northern Ireland will get an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

She said her organisation has been impressed by Environment Minister Arlene Foster so far and strongly believes the EPA offers her a golden opportunity to make her mark.

"She has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform our system of environmental protection, in particular by creating an agency," she added.

Andrew Dougal of the Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke Association said having a local parliament has enabled politicians to look in more detail "at the illness and suffering which the Department of Health is designed to address".

"During a debate in June, for example, we heard harrowing accounts of the lives of elderly carers looking after their own adult children," he said.

"Members of both the Assembly and the health committee have taken with the appropriate seriousness the issue of teenage suicides - one of the most pressing problems facing this society," said Mr Dougal.

"The minister should also be congratulated for committing £28m to health and care centres in west Belfast, and for the £12m earmarked for community services, including respite care.

"The target of 26 weeks' waiting time from referral to treatment to be met by March next year, falling to 13 weeks by March 2009, will also have been greeted with relief by all those who need specialist medical care.

"But a huge amount remains to be done. We have a postcode lottery in the treatment of stroke, for example, in which some patients can expect specialist care in a dedicated Stroke Unit while others can expect nothing of the sort.

"I raise this not because of my particular interest in the subject, but because it is one example of where the service needs to be improved."

Ulster Farmers Union president Kenneth Sharkey praised the Assembly's handling of the foot and mouth disease and early moves to cut red tape.

"Reducing red tape has been one of the UFU's biggest priorities," he said.

"The minister has introduced several significant individual initiatives to reduce bureaucracy, but the industry still wants to see the launch of a full scale independent review of farm paperwork."

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz