Belfast Telegraph

Purdah: The decisions taken and the politicians looking the credit

By Noel McAdam

Lots of little, and some not so little, decisions by our politicians will be coming to light over the weeks ahead.

But they will not be able, in the time-honoured way, to claim any credit for them.

For we are currently in the period called ‘Purdah’  - the time between an election being called and the results announced.

What it means is that our now would-be elected representatives are forbidden from announcing any initiatives which could be seen to be advantageous to either themselves as candidates or their parties.

The difference this time is that it appears Purdah will effectively extend, and even intensify, beyond polling day.

For while MLAs will formally register in the Assembly the week after the election, there are no indications the Executive will be back anytime soon.

Already the province has no First Minister and Deputy First Minister. And come election day on March 2 all the other Ministers run out of road, too.

They then will not be re-appointed or replaced because, as things stand, Sinn Fein will refuse to nominate anyone for an Executive portfolio.

Nonetheless an interesting example of a Minister apparently trying to get round the ‘Purdah’ restrictions emerged the other day. And all in a good cause.

The Department of Agriculture and Environment unveiled that a scheme to remove BVD infected animals is now open for claims - without any quotes from the Minister.

But within minutes of the Departmental press release, the Minister Michelle McIlveen put out a statement of her own - as an election candidate in Strangford.   

“These are the kind of real and meaningful programmes I have been working to bring forward since becoming Minister last year,” she said.

“During last year’s election campaign we made a commitment to reducing the level of non-notifiable diseases, including BVD. This announcement is delivery upon that commitment,” she went on.

“At the end of last year I was also able to announce that Northern Ireland would be the first region of the United Kingdom to process advance payments. This was the fulfilment of another commitment made during last year’s Assembly election campaign.”

Ministerial statements cannot usually be mistaken for election broadcasts - but none of the other parties took Mrs McIlveen to task for fear of being portrayed as being against the help for that vital group of voters, farmers.

For its part, the DUP pointed out the same day that Health Minister Michelle O’Neill had been ubiquitous across “all media platforms” as they say in relation to her strategy to tackle hospital waiting lists.

And she did not refer to herself as either the new Sinn Fein Stormont leader or a Mid-Ulster candidate.

It may all depend on your definition of a ‘big’ or ‘little’ decision.

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