Posted By: May 16, 2015

Newt Emerson. Irish News ( Belfast). Saturday, May 16, 2015

PETER Robinson is not a man to let a good crisis go to waste. While replacing health minister Jim Wells he has taken the opportunity to rotate his executive team, moving Arlene Foster to finance and hence one step closer to being his announced successor, at least at Stormont. There is a growing belief that the DUP will need another leader at Westminster, with both figures forming a kind of diarchy. The only top-tier promotion in the rotation is former junior minister Jonathan Bell, who commented on Wells’s gay gaffes with the words: “My own Christian faith would be the bedrock of what I do.” Study Peter Robinson’s reshuffles throughout this executive term and you will notice that whatever calamities or even attempted coups befall him, two of his party’s four departments are always held by outspoken Christians and the other two by quiet secularists. Perhaps managing the DUP is not as difficult as it looks.

AFTER all that fuss about how the Tories could never do business with the ‘homophobic’ DUP, David Cameron has appointed a critic of same-sex marriage as equalities minister in his first fully-Conservative cabinet. Of the 28 new ministers, a further seven voted against Westminster’s 2013 same-sex marriage bill and another abstained. Why would Cameron, who championed that legislation, now be promoting its opponents? The answer is that, like Peter Robinson, he has traditional and modernising wings to manage. Over half the parliamentary Conservative party opposed the 2013 bill.

LISTEN carefully and you can already hear Sinn Féin sounded the retreat from its welfare reform grandstanding. After Peter Robinson presented republicans with a ‘final’ set of proposals, Sinn Féin said it was: “committed to achieving the full implementation of all the outstanding issues of the Stormont House Agreement, including welfare, to ensure the agreed protections are in place for children with disabilities, adults with severe disabilities, the long-term sick and large families.” The first two of these categories are not affected by welfare reform, while there is no more mention of the protection of all claimants from all changes forever that was suddenly demanded before the election.

COMPLEXITY is the enemy of accountability, as can be seen by the DUP’s escape over Red Sky now that it would take this whole page to explain it. However, even the DUP baulked at using complex Stormont procedures as a concluding smokescreen. It could have raised a petition of concern to stop the assembly ‘noting’ the critical Red Sky report by the Social Development Committee and few voters would have cared but this would have injected to much rot into Stormont’s oversight structures that everyone in the building would have known it was falling down.

IN THE same way that most of the UK’s problems with Brussels are caused by the British civil service, most of the UK’s problems with the European Convention on Human Rights are caused by the British judiciary. A robust verdict from Strasbourg this week against dissident republican Colin Duffy is more typical of continental jurisprudence. But that is all rather difficult to explain, so with a Yes, Minister-style cry of ‘euro-sausage’ the Conservatives are pressing ahead with repealing the Human Rights Act. The rights sector believes this is impossible, at least here, as incorporating the European Convention into Northern Ireland law was part of the Good Friday Agreement – an international treaty. Yet in 2008 the Irish government broke its commitments under that treaty when it merged its human rights and equality quangos. Fianna Fáil, which was in office at the time, pressed ahead despite facing exactly the same complaints it is now making against the Conservatives.

UUP minister Danny Kennedy is to start fining drivers for straying into Belfast’s bus lanes, after bringing in legislation last year that downgraded this from a criminal offence dealt with by the police to a civil offence dealt with by cameras and penalty notices. The minister claims his main concern is road safety, which is curious when dangerous driving remains a police matter. Kennedy added that driving into bus lanes “may also delay” public transport but he presented no evidence for this, despite his department’s regular traffic surveys. Meanwhile, Belfast’s drivers remain free to block junctions, which is the real problem with the city’s road network.

THE rise of People Before Profit’s Gerry Carroll in West Belfast has led some to conclude that Sinn Féin had a disappointing election because it is not left wing enough. That is quite a joining of the dots. Sinn Féin’s vote went down almost everywhere while People Before Profit, a franchise of the Socialist Workers Party, ran in only one unusual constituency. Carroll is a focus for all exasperation in West Belfast’s one-party state, winning his council seat last year partly due to householders objecting to Sinn Féin’s mishandling of Casement Park – a rather ironic role for bourgeois property. Then there is the personality factor. After winning his council seat, Carroll reportedly visited all his constituents to say thank you, causing every woman his mother’s age in Andersonstown to want to ruffle his hair.