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Stormont’s £8,000 'feelgood' mag on the shelf

Executive’s achievement list may never arrive

By Chris Thorton

A feelgood magazine celebrating the Executive's accomplishments will cost up to £8,000 — even though it has yet to see the light of day.

The publication was written and prepared before the US Investment conference in May, but has become hung up since then — allegedly because of disputes about the Irish language and which Ministers would appear at the back.

Earlier this year the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the magazine — called Changing Times in one version — had been put on the shelf.

Now First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have confirmed that the publication is due to cost between £7,000 and £8,000 without being printed.

That spending was branded a waste of money today by SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly, who sits on the committee scrutinising the work of the First Ministers.

"It would seem the only thing the DUP/Sinn Fein axis can agree on is finding new ways of wasting money and wasting time," she said.

Sources familiar with the magazine say it was produced with the intention of sending it to every home in Northern Ireland. Officials also considered using it for the showpiece investment conference, although they say that was not the primary reason for producing it.

Stormont sources say it was withdrawn because Sinn Fein and DUP officials disagreed about the use of the Irish language and the prominence given to some Ministers.

In the version seen by the Telegraph and dated May, the front page of the magazine was going to ask readers, "What's really changed since devolution?"

It added: "What's the Executive ever done for us?"

In a written Assembly answer to Mrs Kelly, the First Ministers said the Executive Information Service "has not incurred any expenditure in relation to this document to date".

"However the indication is that the cost of the preparatory work is likely to be between £7,000 and £8,000," they added. "The exact figure has yet to be agreed with the service provider and we will be invoiced accordingly."

Mrs Kelly said she was "very concerned" at the spending.

"It is hardly surprising that during a period when the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister cannot agree to convene an Executive committee meeting that they could not agree to produce a magazine.

"It is ironic that the provisional title of this magazine is Changing Times as for the people of Northern Ireland there is nothing new about DUP and Sinn Fein bickering.”

Earlier this year the Executive said a number of drafts had been prepared but no final decision on publication taken.

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