The DUP is now answerable for the implications of Stormont reform bill that has been rushed through the assembly

It is almost certain that the Executive Committee (Functions) Bill will become law today, after passing its key stage in Stormont yesterday.

By Editorial
Tuesday, 28th July 2020, 9:44 am
Updated Tuesday, 28th July 2020, 10:11 am
News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

DUP MLAs were warned in detail, explicitly and indeed repeatedly in articles in this newspaper over the last week of the implications of the legislation.

The key warnings came from Richard Bullick, one of the most respected DUP operatives in the history of the party.

His analysis of the contents of the bill, that it greatly weakened the constraints on ministers to make major decisions without recourse to the executive, was endorsed by the sharpest of the lawyers who are MLAs, Jim Allister QC.

Mr Bullick explained that a supposed safeguard that had been cited as a bulwark against the sort of solo run in which Martin McGuinness engaged when he abolished the 11+, the claim that three ministers could call in such a decision to be considered by other ministers, was wrong.

Arelene Foster had made that claim but seems not to be making it any more, yet the DUP has not retracted it. Mervyn Storey MLA repeated it in the chamber yesterday.

This is a remarkable saga, in that it is of the utmost gravity yet has been met with such a casual response. Sinn Fein will not allow reversal of the change that was approved yesterday.

The DUP as an entire political party now is answerable for the legislative change, and all of its implications.

The party has powerful members both in and out of the assembly. Did they not see Mr Bullick’s and Mr Allister’s critique? Yet no-one has come forward with a point by point rebuttal of the criticisms of the reform (or with either a retraction of the three minister claim, or else a pointer to where it exists in law). Mr Bullick has already dismissed, point by point, a DUP briefing paper in defence of this legal reform.

There was a clear escape route yesterday: supporting Doug Beattie MLA’s amendment to limit the change to planning decisions, to allow more consideration be given to the wider bill.

That was not taken.

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Alistair Bushe