Belfast Telegraph

Political chicanery is choking democracy

Editor's Viewpoint

MLAs cut short their holidays to return to debate a serious issue of public interest and succeeded only in making it worse. It was an unedifying spectacle at Stormont yesterday when the Spotlight allegations about Nelson McCausland and Red Sky came before the House. The motion called for the Assembly to investigate if the Housing Minister had misled the Assembly. Instead, yet again, what we heard was allegations of corruption being flung around by members. And at the end of it all no motion was carried and nothing was decided.

The reason was simple. Although the motion gained cross-party and cross-community support in the Assembly it was defeated by a petition of concern, a piece of political trickery which is meant to stop minorities being ridden roughshod over, but which, increasingly, is used by all parties if they find themselves in trouble. It is clear that this particular manoeuvre will have to be rethought as it is now being misused. Indeed, one might urge the Speaker to take a look at this matter and see if its use can be contained to the original purpose.

The DUP's Sammy Wilson said the petition was invoked to stop the party's minister being kicked around. Surely that is part and parcel of democratic politics. Is there a minister in any democratic government who doesn't feel the wrath of opposition – and sometimes his or her own – members? As well, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers should reconsider her extension of the moratorium on parties here revealing their donors.

Given the accusations flying around Stormont the public will feel baffled as to whether or not businessmen are giving large amounts of money to party funds. If Northern Ireland was like every other part of the UK we would know who gets what and from whom and we would all be better off for knowing. This whole sad episode shows the need for local politics to evolve rapidly to the stage where there is an effective opposition performing the necessary scrutiny role.

Too often it is left to the media to expose alleged wrong-doing. That does politics no favours.

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