THE Stormont Executive is to embark on a PR offensive to sell its achievements and counter what First Minister Peter Robinson described as “a very poor press”.
Speaking ahead of the DUP conference which begins tomorrow, Mr Robinson hit out at commentators who have ridiculed the Executive and Assembly for sluggishness and inaction.
In an interview with the News Letter on Thursday Mr Robinson said that Stormont was responsible for bringing to Northern Ireland the Titanic Centre, the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre, the Irish Open and the G8 conference announced on Tuesday by Prime Minister David Cameron.
Earlier this year it emerged that press offices in the Executive’s 12 departments employ 161 staff at an annual cost of £5 million. The Executive points out that not all of those staff are press officers, as some handle advertising campaigns or administration.
In the summer the First and Deputy First Ministers announced a review of the Executive Information Service (EIS), which some in government believe to be ineffective.
Mr Robinson said: “I think that the Executive has got a very poor press. There are commentators and others who almost use the word ‘Assembly’ along with ‘lack of delivery’, which is completely untrue.
“I think that we have a job to do and you’ll probably see it being done over the next few weeks and months where the Executive will be making much more of an issue of what it is delivering so that people are aware of the work that we are doing.
“But we have a higher level of delivery than at any time since the Assembly has been formed. People take an awful lot for granted – you open up the Titanic Centre in Belfast; it’s only there because we put it there – it’s Executive money that make it happen.
“A new visitors’ centre at the Giant’s Causeway; it’s only there because we put money into it. The Irish Open only happened ... the G8 is coming to Northern Ireland; it would have been inconceivable that it would have come 10 or 20 years ago. It’s coming because we have provided a stable political base in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Robinson said that if he was sitting down to design a government for Northern Ireland it would not resemble the Stormont system but said: “We are where we are and that’s a whole lot better than what went before.”
The DUP leader said that as time went on the DUP and Sinn Fein were speeding up their decision-making and understanding each other better. He said: “It’s a slow system, it’s a cumbersome system, it’s a frustrating system, but as time goes on the learning curve is such that we learn more and more about the areas of difficulty for each other and therefore we can ensure that the decision-making process is such that we can get it through speedier.
“Decisions are being much more quickly now than was the case but it is still a slow system as opposed to having one-party government.”
When asked whether the improvements of which he speaks are because of an improved relationship between he and Mr McGuinness or between their parties, Mr Robinson said: “The longer you are operating, the easier it becomes because you know the people involved, you know the difficulties for them, you try and present policies in a way that overcome the problems that could be met by them.
“It is functioning much more easily than it has in the past.”