Belfast Telegraph

Send Hamilton back to work... for DUP's sake

By Liam Clarke

The DUP owes it to Simon Hamilton to get him back to work next week. It is also in the best interests of the health service and of the party. It is the best course in a difficult situation.

The DUP are usually good at guarding their man. Spads or MLAs can be involved in activity that would get them dismissed in some other administrations. But here, as long as they remain loyal to the leadership, there is no problem. Breaking ranks is punished.

Take Stephen Brimstone, a spad to Nelson McCausland. It was leaked that he was "toast" following accusations of bullying Jenny Palmer, a councillor, to vote along party lines in an outside board.

In fact, Mr Brimstone went on to work in OFMDFM and is now, presumably, redundant until the ministerial protest is over.

Mrs Palmer, on the other hand, left the party after being summoned to a disciplinary meeting. She is now in the UUP.

Mr Hamilton needs protection in a different way. He has, ever since he was elected, been described as a "rising star". He has established a reputation as a pragmatist, a man of ability, the sort of politician who could have a valued role in most of the world's centre-right governments.

Now, Mr Hamilton has been put at the sharp end of the DUP's protest tactics, something inflicting daily damage on him and the party. Unlike the other DUP ministers, he heads our biggest-spending department, where hospital waiting lists are spiralling, and he is an easy target as he resigns each week.

Rather than an investment in the future or an example of a post-conflict politician, Mr Hamilton risks becoming the DUP's Achilles heel. He is the easiest point of attack. And it only takes some disaster in the health service for things to become critical.

If that happens, the DUP will circle the wagons to protect him, but it would be better to act first.

There should be an opportunity when the report of the paramilitary assessment panel comes in. Most people expect that around next Wednesday, with perhaps the parties seeing it earlier.

There are already discussions on which details should be included and which withheld on security grounds.

It will have to offer an update on the murder of Kevin McGuigan, which the Chief Constable said had been carried out by IRA members, probably acting without authorisation.

If the assessment report is an improvement on this, then the DUP ministers should all be sent back to work.

It will also report on the general state of paramilitary organisations. It would reassure unionists if this process was continued.

What we cannot have is threats to resign every time a report contains something ambiguous. We need a process that works - and ministers who work, too.

Belfast Telegraph


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