Dennis Healey famously likened a political attack he endured from Tory minister Geoffrey Howe to being ‘savaged by a dead sheep’. As tongue tied UUP MLA, Fred Cobain, allowed Jeffrey Donaldson’s pompous intonation to swamp a perfectly valid argument on Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra yesterday, I had pause to reflect, how much more unpleasant it must be to be savaged by Daniel O’Donnell. It wasn’t a good performance from poor old Fred, who simply failed to assert himself, and Mark Carruthers controlled the piece badly, allowing Donaldson to drone on endlessly and barely affording Cobain any time to outline his argument.
The issue at hand is an attempt by the Executive, indicative of the DUP and Sinn Féin’s approach to power-sharing, to minimise the role of Assembly committees in scrutinising its spending plans. Mark Devenport succinctly outlines the respective arguments on his blog, something which Radio Ulster abjectly failed to achieve in its item. Quite reasonably, Cobain and others object to executive papers being rushed through without adequate scrutiny at the committee stage. This is the way business has been conducted in this Assembly from its inception, a feature of government carved up between DUP / SF, parties which see the Assembly’s role as a rubber stamp for programmes that they have horse traded near to death between them.
Jeffrey Donaldson prattled on about economic crisis, how vital these measures were, the poor cold pensioners etc. in his most condescending tone. Later the predictable litany of texts and e-mails flooded in, lambasting work-shy MLAs, implying that Cobain and others were reluctant to eat into Christmas holidays. The actual issues were almost entirely ignored.
MLAs holidays are a red herring here, as Jeffrey Donaldson well knows. Sinn Féin and his party can’t be allowed to thrash out every issue behind closed doors before shunting it through the Assembly in double quick time. He points to 150 days of deadlock to justify the alacrity with which measures are being brought forward. Those 150 days are not a reason for high-handed, unaccountable government; they were a symptom of the same disease.