Irish Republican News · November 17, 2011
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Stormont fuss over nothing

The Six-County First Minister, DUP leader Peter Robinson has been accused of contriving a “stunt” when he threatened to resign over changes to the North’s prison regime.

The bizarre declaration that he would collapse the North’s government over changes to prison names and symbols was treated with cynicism by his unionist and nationalist opponents alike.

It was immediately clear that Robinson was merely grandstanding over the plan to change prison emblems -- including dropping the ‘Her Majesty’s Prison’ (HMP) title.

As Justice Minister David Ford -- who proposed the changes -- was quick to point out, Robinson and his party already enjoy full veto powers over all political decisions in the North.

He signalled that there would be no need for Mr Robinson to resign as the changes would need cross-party approval, and that the plan could simply have been axed by Robinson at a meeting of the Six-County executive without any further notice.

Sinn Féin’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, said Mr Robinson needed to “calm down”, while Ulster Unionist Party leader Tom Elliott said there was “no merit” in Robinson’s histrionics.

“This is basically a stunt to outmanoeuvre others. He could stop it at the executive so I don’t see any reason to say this especially as people are frustrated that no work is going on here,” Mr Elliott said.

Since the 2006 St Andrews Agreement the first minister effectively has had the power to block any ministerial decisions that are deemed “significant and controversial”.

Just three members of the executive have to agree that a matter is “significant and controversial.” The DUP has five ministers, two more than is needed.


It is thought Robinson’s outburst may have been an attempt to deflect attention from the Six-County administration’s Programme for Government, which was published today (Thursday).

The plan is intended to signal the general policy of the Six County executive in spending its block grant [subvention] from the British exchequer, a sum of almost ten billion pounds sterling annually.

The blueprint, which runs to 2005, does not confirm any agreement between Sinn Féin and the DUP on spending cuts north of the border, but focuses instead on 76 “commitments to the people of Northern Ireland”.

These include one year’s free pre-school education for children and a vow to create 25,000 new jobs.

However, much of the programme appears to have been drafted by British civil servants, such as one promise to tackle the severe and widespread poverty in the North with on “action plan” based on what was described as an “outcomes model”.

Almost all of the measures are described in the vaguest terms. In particular, while the report promises to improve “key transport corridors”, there is no mention of the A5 dual carriageway. It had been expected the programme for government would confirm the first section of the road, which should connect Derry to nearby Strabane, would go ahead.

The new road, an important element of the 2006 St Andrews’ Agreement was controversially axed by the Dublin government last week under EU/IMF pressure. Sinn Féin subsequently declared it had been assured that the project would go ahead.

But speaking following the release of the document, Martin McGuinness listed a number of schemes included in the investment strategy, such as three new sports stadia, the construction of training colleges for the PSNI police and prison warders, and a capital grants scheme for universities.

He spoke about the need to press hard for the devolution of corporation tax rates, to protect the environment and raise educational standards.

He added that said fairness and equality must also run alongside efforts to boost business and build the economy.

“If we unfairly exclude certain sections from participating fully in our society, then we all lose,” he said. “Equal societies always do better across all the indicators that are measured.”

The following are the other main commitments:

  • Secure #300m in foreign direct investment.
  • Deliver 8,000 social and affordable homes, plus double glazing for all Housing Executive properties.
  • Cut the number of district councils down from 26 to 11.
  • Eliminate air passenger duty on direct long haul flights.
  • Seek to keep university fees steady and avoid introducing water charges.
  • Use a #50m loan fund to help provide cash to small and medium sized businesses.
  • Support 200 new projects through the Creative Industries Innovation Fund.

We have a favour to ask

We want to keep our publication as available as we can, so we need to ask for your help. Irish Republican News takes time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe it makes a difference. If everyone who reads our website helps fund it, our future would be much more secure.

For as little as £1, you can support Irish Republican News – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.

© 2011 Irish Republican News