Belfast Telegraph

Mistletoe and whine

By Will Chambre

It's December; the season of goodwill is upon us and traffic jams are the least of our MLAs' worries, as they'll not be driving to Stormont until January.

Yes, the hard-pressed politicians who worked tirelessly throughout talks about talks in the summer and autumn, and then panicked in the realisation that they had only a few short months to pass legislation before the end of the mandate, are off for three weeks holiday.

Of course, that would be a cynics view. No doubt our political representatives will be in their constituency offices, working hard and plotting their manifestos for May's election.

One such MLA will have a particularly busy few weeks ahead, preparing for the small task of taking up the highest office in Stormont and leading NI's biggest party.

Arlene Foster's inauguration as First Minister and DUP leader is a mere formality now. But although she has the backing of a majority of the party's heavyweights, the MP for East Antrim may be feeling a bit short-changed.

While some may have questioned Sammy Wilson's credentials for the leadership, his to-ing and fro-ing over whether to run showed that he can do the Hokey Cokey just as well as his Executive colleagues.

The odds were always going to be in Arlene's favour, though. Her sure handed dealing of the First Minister's post when Peter Robinson temporarily handed her the reigns, her management of the media, and her abilities with various Ministerial portfolios made her the strongest candidate in the field. Indeed, so impressive is her CV that her status as a UUP deserter has all but been forgotten.

When she sits down with Martin McGuinness she knows that the cobbled together agreement in November will be surely tested around the Executive table, as they gear up for Departmental cuts and the Assembly election.

Indeed, the impact of the former will make agreeing the next Programme of Government and budget a particularly tricky balancing act.

One can only hope that competent senior civil servants will be on hand to work through the details - that is if they all haven't already taken voluntary exit!

So, while the cynic may think our MLAs are going to be kicking back their heels and watching festive films, the reality is that, across all parties, many will be working behind the scenes right up until the mouth of Christmas.

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