Belated flurry of upset at Stormont
There has been much concern at this latest Executive collapse that the management of devolution will fall to senior civil servants. Recently a few retired mandarins have expressed their concern at the constitutional implications of senior civil servants being responsible for governance in the sick counties.
My first thought was why the sudden concern? During the 26-odd years of direct rule when mainly minor politicians were flown in for a three-day week to dutifully sign off whatever was put in front of them, the local civil service largely enjoyed a free rein to do as they saw fit. Direct Rule was an ideal world for our respective Sir Humphreys – they had unrivalled powers of action with virtually no serious scrutiny, much less accountability. Similarly, over the 24 years since the Good Friday Agreement our politicians, through a series of career breaks amounting to a total of nearly eight years, again handed complete control to the civil service. Even allowing for the professed stance of professional impartiality and a reluctance to enter the political domain, any professional reservations were hardly highlighted, certainly not to the extent we are now being presented.
So, what is one to think of this belated flurry of upset at Stormont? I can think of two possible explanations: firstly, being privy to inside information there may well be justified alarm at how really bad things are going to get as Tory austerity 2.0 kicks in while the Assembly is in a deep freeze. Secondly, I am sure as dedicated professionals our assorted panjandrums have more than a passing concern for their fellow citizens and taxpayers, but perhaps the real worry is, being held accountable for doing their jobs without having politicians as fig leaves? One might be forgiven for pointing out that this is a day-to-day reality for many of us, be it doctors, nurses, carers, and teachers, so why not senior civil servants?
One might be inclined to have some sympathy for individuals under pressure in demanding roles if their generous level of remuneration was not commensurate with their responsibilities and more than ministers get. That the RHI inquiry four years ago laid bare multiple shortcomings at Stormont was bad enough, what was more revealing if sadly not shocking, was that in March this year, two years after the inquiry report was published, not even half of its recommendations had been implemented. The revelations in 2022 alone suggest a culture of dysfunction at Stormont.
The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) contains “safeguards to ensure that all sections of the community can participate and work together successfully in the operation of these institutions and that all sections of the community are protected, including: (d) arrangements to ensure key decisions are taken on a cross-community basis (Strand 1, Clause 5).
Such decisions include specifically the election of the Chair and the First Minister (FM) and Deputy First Minister (DFM), which require 5(d)i consent “ie a majority of those members present and voting, including a majority of the unionist and nationalist designations present and voting”.
There is no stipulation in the GFA that the FM and DFM shall be appointed from any particular party or parties (Clause 15).
The later St Andrews Agreement (SAA) stipulated that the posts of FM and DFM be filled from the largest party on each side of the political divide, unionist and nationalist. Was that ‘key decision’ taken in accordance with clause 5(d)i of the GFA?
Since then, a sizeable non-aligned section of the community has emerged, represented mainly by the Alliance Party. The present ‘safeguards’ do not allow that party a say in ‘key decisions’, and the SAA does not allow members of that party to hold the FM or DFM posts.
A ‘key decision’ change to the GFA (and SAA?) to permit this would require 5(d)i agreement. Would the unionist and nationalist parties agree in the certain knowledge that votes traditionally cast ‘to keep the other side out’ would then go to the non-aligned parties?
The GFA was achieved by a public referendum. Will a public referendum now be required to enfranchise the Alliance and other non-aligned parties and their supporters?
Strabane, Co Tyrone
Breaching ‘military’ neutrality
It’s not so long ago since some soldiers of a Nato army were killing innocent civilians in Northern Ireland as demonstrated by the conviction on 25th November of former British soldier David Holden of the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie in 1988. On the same day four Nato naval vessels were visiting Cork and Nato soldiers at Kilworth in Co Cork were participating in exercises to assess the basic capabilities of Irish soldiers. The training and military experiences of Irish soldiers has been largely focused on genuine peacekeeping and this is far more appropriate for the soldiers of a genuine neutral state. The only complex missions that Irish soldiers should be undertaking with foreign forces should be UN peacekeeping missions. Irish Defence Forces are increasingly entangled with Nato and EU military forces. We now have a new name for the developing EU army or ‘battlegroups’. It will henceforth be called The EU Rapid Deployment Capacity (RDC) and our government has committed up to 120 Irish soldiers to this foreign military alliance. Our government falsely claims that all this is not in breach of ‘military’ neutrality. All the above are in clear breach of any concept of genuine neutrality as defined by international law. May Aidan McAnespie, and all those innocent people killed by all aggressive military forces, rest in peace.
Castletroy, Co Limerick
Collectivism solves problems
When we use a magnifying glass in direct sunlight, the concentration of such power causes a laser effect and creates fire and heat. We need heat in winter and want a clean, green and environmentally friendly source. Why isn’t there a plan to collect the warmth of the hottest deserts and driest places in the world by the use of lenses and storage silos – an eventual distribution of free energy to all the countries of the world? We do have the materials in nuclear plants. Private investors are always afraid that collective thinkers and collaborators will off-set private profits. We could solve all the issues of heat and water to the hottest and poorest areas of the world, if the best brains in the world could put profit aside. We could have found cures for cancer if all the private profiteers and short-term thinkers were ousted from the bigger conferences in the world arena. We need collectivism to be a priority in our future but not in a defunct way. Some of the most disadvantaged people in the world would rather freeze to death or let their children die of poverty than admit that collectivism is what solves problems and not selfish interests.
We are in need of magnification in all senses of the word.
Omagh, Co Tyrone