Ex DUP man: I fear that safeguards against Sinn Fein won by our party at St Andrews in 2006 are being unpicked in a rush

I have been following the News Letter’s coverage of the rapid progress of the Executive Committee (Functions) Bill with some confusion and concern.

By David Cather
Sunday, 26th July 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 27th July 2020, 9:11 am
Unionists who feared that the 2006 St Andrews Agreement was just the same as the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, above, were told by the DUP that ministers would not be able to run their departments like fiefdoms any longer
Unionists who feared that the 2006 St Andrews Agreement was just the same as the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, above, were told by the DUP that ministers would not be able to run their departments like fiefdoms any longer

The key paragraph in the bill, as highlighted by Jim Allister is: “Nothing in subsection (3) requires a Minister to have recourse to the Executive Committee in relation to any matter unless that matter affects the exercise of the statutory responsibilities of one or more other Ministers more than incidentally.”

This would seem to imply that any minister, who can argue that any matter their department is dealing with does not impact any other department, more than incidentally, can act with impunity.

Richard Bullick outlined on Friday (see link below) how this goes against what has been DUP strategy for 16 years.

Letter to the editor

I can only add a personal perspective from having been a rank and file party member for most of those years. Naturally in those days I got challenged by friends that the St Andrews Agreement was just the same as the Good Friday Agreement and my key counter-argument, was that ministers would not be able to run their departments like fiefdoms any longer.

It is worth remembering how enraged ordinary unionists were when Martin McGuinness signed the 11 plus out of existence by himself, and no-one and nothing could stop him. How could this level of power reside, unchecked, with one individual and an individual with a terrorist past at that?

Moreover, regardless of a minister’s past, unchecked power in the hands of one person is bad for democracy. At the time, I believed that the DUP was the party to ensure that such concentration of power could never be allowed to happen again.

Yet under the terms of this bill it is easy to see how Martin McGuinness could successfully argue that the 11 plus is not an issue which affects any department except education.

I hope that protections and safeguards, hard won in the past, are not being unpicked by this alarmingly rushed piece of legislation; but the confused messages coming from Arlene Foster, over a three minister call-in mechanism which apparently doesn’t exist, do not exactly inspire confidence.

The bill seems to have been tabled in response to issues around planning, but has been drafted in such a way as to give it much wider implications. It urgently needs pared back to its original purpose.

David Cather, Belfast BT6

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