Alliance minister expresses no public concern as powers stripped from his department under DUP-government side deal

DAERA Minister Andrew Muir MLA says he will continue to engage with the government on the new arrangements.  (Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye)DAERA Minister Andrew Muir MLA says he will continue to engage with the government on the new arrangements.  (Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye)
DAERA Minister Andrew Muir MLA says he will continue to engage with the government on the new arrangements. (Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye)
​The extent to which the Secretary of State now has direct control over Stormont departments is becoming clearer after the TUV revealed that the agriculture minister will no longer have control of animal health issues.

Despite the huge scope that the NIO now has to direct Stormont departments, there appears to be little concern from the Executive parties about the powers stripped from them.

Control over issues relevant to the Irish Sea border were handed back to London as part of the DUP – Tory Safeguarding the Union deal. Critics accused the party of trying to avoid scrutiny of the scale and operation of the border, but the DUP says it is committed to removing trade barriers.

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TUV leader Jim Allister questioned the DAERA minister Andrew Muir about vaccines for Bovine TB prompting the agriculture (DAERA) minister Andrew Muir to confirm that animal health laws are no longer his responsibility and are now “subject to the direction and control of the Secretary of State”.

The News Letter asked the minister if he was not concerned that significant parts of his brief have been handed over to the UK government as part of a side deal with the DUP. Minister Muir said: “This is uncharted territory for all of us, I continue to engage with ​UK Government on the matter to address issues arising. DAERA will comply with its statutory requirements under the applicable law.”

It is likely that several Stormont departments will be impacted by the new powers, given that most are impacted to some extent by continuing EU law.

​Mr Allister said on Wednesday the response from the Alliance minister was “astounding”. He said: “So, not only has Northern Ireland been left under the EU Animal Health Law - not British law - but, now local oversight and responsibility has been removed from DAERA with the minister washing his hands of all accountability. How bizarre that those, like the DUP, who proclaimed the urgency of restoring devolved powers and the inadequacies of Direct Rule have done a deal whereby all such local powers over animal diseases have been removed.

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“I will be pressing the DAERA minister further on this matter in order to flush out just what powers, if any, he has left over animal health.”

The Windsor Framework (Implementation) Regulations give the Secretary of State the power to take control of implementing the Protocol – instead of locally elected ministers. The role of the EU is unchanged, but Stormont will have fewer powers in scrutinising decisions taken by the UK government to implement decisions it takes alongside, or on behalf, of the EU.

The Sinn Fein run finance department has previously acknowledged that it may impact the Executive’s budget and decision-making in relation to Windsor Framework issues.

Executive ministers will not be allowed to see advice given to the Secretary of State by their own departments if Mr Heaton-Harris or any of his successors don’t want them to see it.

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Ministers will also be routinely barred from seeing any information which “attracts legal privilege; was provided in confidence or otherwise engages commercial confidentiality”. Even the existence of legally privileged information may not be disclosed to Stormont ministers.

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