Belfast Telegraph

Malachi O'Doherty: Each party will have its prints on the assassin’s knife when it comes to cuts

I take it you can still smell manure at Greenmount Agricultural College. Why else would the ministers have retired to such a place for their away-day if not to be inspired by their wholesome rural roots?

Isn't this the Ulster they have given their lives to — or in some cases to destroying?

I can imagine the former butcher's boy Martin McGuinness sizing up a bull for the best cut.

What better exercise to put him in the right frame of mind for cutting into the Northern Ireland economy?

Will he have shared a few words with his partner at the head of the Executive, Peter Robinson, on the need for a clean slice?

Mr Robinson was probably still glowing from his trip to Dublin and the exuberance he felt at the discovery that a Taoiseach might slash and burn his way through public services, pensions and salaries and still survive, as Brian Cowen has done. What a heartening discovery that will have been.

I'm seeing Sammy Wilson leaning back in his chair with his motorcycling boots up on the pine table, making the situation plain: “Something has gotta go.”

David Ford is stroking his beard and wondering whether he should really be here.

How will he explain this one to Naomi Long? That having taken on the justice portfolio he now has to discuss paring services across all other ministries to the bone. Peter is on his feet: “We need a working party, a few good men to frame the issues for us.”

He's looking at David. He's looking at Alex Attwood and Reg Empey.

“Three men is all I need to stand with me and Martin and decide where the money is coming from.”

Michael McGimpsey is getting up to leave.

Alex Attwood is dreaming of social housing. It is how he contents himself at trying times.

Nelson McCausland thinks they are all looking at him. Well, that £13m for the Ulster-Scots Academy is safe for sure.

Sammy is looking at Nelson. Martin is looking at Nelson.

“Who needs culture anyway?” someone mutters. He looks around but can't see which of them spoke.

“Good,” says Peter. “That's agreed.”

The working party will come up with the answers and, like a pact among assassins, each party will have its prints on the knife.

The ministers are now bonded around the resolve to draw blood with a smile and to cover each other against the wrath that will follow.

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