Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Never mind about Sammy, what planet is Ruane on?

So apparently the folks on the hill — or a sub-committee of them anyway — have no confidence in Environment Minister Sammy Wilson because of his refusal to show government ads which imply that climate change is man-made. Ooh, big talk.

No confidence. Censure motions. The minister under pressure. Almost like a real legislature and a real government.

Mmm, I know Sammy may have made an eejit of himself by being not only out of step on this issue with the other parties, but with official DUP policy. And the sight of a politician banning an ad should always make one uneasy.

But I'll tell you this. I have more confidence in Sammy Wilson than Caitriona Ruane following the farce over the 11-plus.

While Wilson's silly banning of the ads — they will, after all, be seen by people here on Channels 4 and Five, and presumably a clatter of satellite ones — will affect precisely no one, Ruane's failure over an issue driven by her and her party has left thousands of children and parents completely in the dark about what is going to to happen next year. And, in all probability, the mid-term future as well. What's more deserving of censure? But do we have our MLAs huddling together, planning no confidence motions against the SF minister? Or calls for the executive to resign and face the electorate over their handling of this important issue?

Don't make me laugh. That's a real issue that the Executive controls, not a ‘pseudo'-cultural one where it's just easier to make cheap points. And that's why it is more than a smidgin preposterous for our MLAs to be penning letters to the Office of the First Minister asking it to outline its official policy on the subject of global warming and carbon emissions.

Does the Executive have an official position over the scrapping of the 11-plus? If it does, it's been keeping it very much to itself. Judging by reports, many in the Executive, if not the majority, actively oppose Ruane’s plans. What now of collective responsibility? Will our MLAs be lobbying the First Minister to give Ruane her P45 and maybe have a ‘cabinet reshuffle'? After all, her failure to build any type of consensus not only with her political colleagues but also with grammar schools both in the state and maintained sectors show her at best to be inept. Either in terms of principle or basic political competence, in any normal ‘government' there would be profound question marks over her future.

Yeah, right. And how long would the Belfast Agreement survive if we really had ‘normal' politics here? Under the current set-up, Ruane's boss isn't Peter Robinson. Her boss is Gerry Adams. And if he's happy with the mess, we’re just going to have to lump it.

Unlike Westminster, there’s no real collective responsibility up at Stormont. And, frankly, it's disingenuous to pretend otherwise. The whole system is a fancy buggins turn. A few thousand votes here or there and SF wouldn't have ended up with the Education portfolio. It would have been a UUP, DUP or SDLP minister. In which case, you could have bet your (rapidly diminishing in value) house that 11-plus and selection wouldn't even have been a issue.

That's a simple fact of life. In other words, the Executive could, with equal sincerity, pursue a directly contradictory policy depending upon a swing in West Tyrone or East Londonderry. That's because it's not united by ideological principle. Or belief. Or even broad-based agreement. All Executive policy depends upon the way the electoral battleground falls on a given day and which party manages to grab which ministry.

After all, what do Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have in common? Apart from keeping the whole show on the road, of course, and a few platitudes about securing the best deal possible for Northern Ireland — or ‘the north' if you're Regional Development minister Conor Murphy — from the Exchequer?

Think of any of the great social hot-buttons here. Abortion? Civil Partnerships? Sex Education? Think of the ‘war by proxy' generated over faraway Gaza, for goodness sake.

You can't have collective responsibility unless there is collective agreement.

And real agreement — over anything — is precisely what we don't have.

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