Sam McBride: MLAs prefer rambling statements to questions, as they fail to extract information from Maroš Šefčovič
Maroš Šefčovič’s ground-breaking appearance before a Stormont committee yesterday exposed many MLAs’ inability to extract information from witnesses.
The senior European Commission figure spent well over an hour with the Assembly’s committee which scrutinises The Executive Office but MLAs had little new to show for that period with such a powerful figure.
The most significant new piece of information – that the EU is prepared to change its legislation on the looming Irish Sea medicines border – was volunteered by Mr Šefčovič in his opening statement.
Not a single MLA realised the significance of what had been said and followed up on it to ask for more information.
Most MLAs eschewed short pointed questions which elicit new information in favour of lengthy statements and sometimes rambling questions.
Likewise, Mr Šefčovič gave lengthy answers, many of which repeated points made many times.
Among the many MLAs delivering long statements to the witness was former DUP MEP Diane Dodds.
She told Mr Sefcovic that he was in an Assembly “where no unionist – not one – gives consent to the Northern Ireland Protocol; that is a very, very serious position for us to be in, and I think it’s one that Europe should take seriously”.
Mrs Dodds’s speech to Mr Sefcovic was cut short by chairman Colin McGrath who asked her to pose a question to the witness.
The Upper Bann MLA then said that “we need complete and permanent solutions” and began another statement, prompting Mr McGrath to interject because “there are about nine questions there” and the committee was running out of time.
Sinn Fein’s Emma Sheerin took the opportunity to highlight to the vice president of the European Commission that if there was a united Ireland then NI would automatically rejoin the EU via Ireland.
Fellow Sinn Fein MLA Martina Anderson similarly did little to elicit new information about the complex implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Instead, she told Mr Šefčovič that the protocol was “an inevitable consequence of what the majority of us view as the unmitigated disaster of Brexit”.
Reading his question, DUP MLA George Robinson said that unionists had been “completely ignored”.
He told the European Commission vice president: “We do not need any more honeyed words; the protocol itself needs scrapped.”