Could you send our Executive ministers for the ‘lend’ (vernacular) of a bag?

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A Northern Ireland Executive Minister asked me “how do you think the Executive could come across better?”

Firstly, I welcome the fact that the Minister in question acknowledges there is a problem as to how the Executive is perceived.

Is the problem regarding the image  of the Executive any different from any other legislature today?

What must David Cameron think every time he tunes into a radio, turns on the television or checks his tweets, now a bigger tyranny for politicians than any other arm of the media historically.

Former Conservative Party Chairman and MP Norman Tebbit has been addressing the rôle of the MP today in the wake of a decision by Conservative MP for Corby Louise Mensch to resign her seat.

In her resignation letter to her party leader David Cameron the forty year old mother wrote “I am very sorry that, despite my best efforts, I have been unable to make the balancing act work for our family.”

Norman Tebbit then directed some probing questions at Mrs Mensch about how public representatives see their function and rôle today:

‘As if Mr Cameron did not have enough troubles already, the Government is now facing not only another attack of the sulks from Mr Clegg but a by-election in Corby and East Northamptonshire in mid November following the decision of the sitting Conservative Member, Louise Mensch, to resign her seat. It would be hard to condemn her for wanting to be with her husband, who lives in New York.

‘Secondly, when I entered the Commons in 1970, to be a Member of Parliament was regarded as an honour and a privilege that came with obligations. It was not a job sought for the pay and perks. I cannot look into the heart of Mrs Mensch, but it appears that she has put her newly acquired husband above the constituents that her website still says she was “honoured to have been elected to represent” only two years ago.’

Has right winger Tebbit got his finger on the pulse in his portrayal of how today’s elected representative is perceived, ‘in politics for one’s own ends?’

Against the backdrop of scandal over expenses, private lives of members of Parliament at Westminster and the goings on of a number of male and female Assembly members at Parliament Buildings, is the image of the politician recoverable in the public psyche?

More importantly, is the scaffolding of government so configured that it stifles decision-making, puts unbearable strains on relationships and families?

Returning to the question put to me by a minister in the Northern Ireland Executive about improving its image:

Well – start telling the political correspondents what you are doing in a professional manner so that the public come to respect and acknowledge your efforts.

Dr Malcolm McKibbin took up his post as Head of the Civil Service on 17 October 2011. We were told his first task was to sort out what is called EIS, the administration’s Executive’s  Information Service.

The 100 plus civil servants work to ministers purportedly to disseminate and to keep the public informed of how the Executive is running Northern Ireland.

The Assembly closed  down for the Summer and then came the following statement from the Office of First and Deputy First Minister on July 18 when BBC political correspondents and other correspondents were on holidays: What was that about?

 

STATEMENT BY THE FIRST MINISTER AND DEPUTY FIRST MINISTER:

“We are pleased to be able to give some detail on a range of policy decisions that we have taken during the course of the last number of days. We have reached a series of wide ranging agreements that will be to the benefit of people across the community and will deliver further progress in the Autumn on the reform agenda we have set out as part of our Programme for Government commitments.”

Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation

The First Minister and deputy First Minister have agreed the appointment and composition of a Chair and Board of the Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation. Following the completion of the necessary appointment and administrative procedures the identity of the new Chair and ten Board members will be published. The Board was established by the Strategic Investment and Regeneration of Sites (Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation) Order (Northern Ireland) 2011. Ministers have again emphasised their commitment to develop the 360 acre site to maximise its potential and look forward to working with the new Board to that end.

Victims Commissioner

Ministers have agreed to the appointment of a single Victims Commissioner to champion the cause of the victims sector and have selected the new Commissioner. Following the completion of the necessary administrative procedures the new Victims Commissioner will be announced.

Ilex Chair

This post will be re-advertised in due course with a view to securing a wider range of applicants.

Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland 2011-2021

Details of the new Investment Strategy have been finalised and will be brought to the next meeting of the Executive on Monday 3rd September for approval. The strategy envisages an investment programme totalling £12.6billion, with £5.4billion to be delivered between now and 2015 supporting over 13,000 jobs in the construction industry and more in the related supply chain.

Cohesion Sharing and Integration Strategy

The First Minister and deputy First Minister have received a report from their representatives on the CSI working group. They are encouraged that considerable progress has been made. The First and deputy First Ministers will meet with party leaders in early September to conclude the process.

Education Skills Authority Bill

The discussions on the content of the ESA bill have been successfully concluded and the bill will be brought to the next meeting of the Executive in order to commence its legislative passage in the Assembly.

Welfare Reform Bill

In light of decisions taken by the Coalition Government at Westminster work is ongoing on the local welfare reform bill and regulations to ameliorate the harsher elements of the Westminster legislation.

Social Investment Fund

Following the publication of the SIF zones Ministers have progressed the establishment of the SIF steering groups. The First Minister and the deputy First Minister have today written to party leaders asking for nominations from each of the parties in order to complete the compositions of the steering groups. Ministers are considering a slate of applications from community representatives, statutory and business groups and successful applicants who will sit alongside the political nominees will be announced in due course.

Executive Information Service

A wide ranging review of the structure and workings of the Executive Information Service has been commissioned by the First and deputy First Ministers. The review will be conducted externally and will be tasked with engaging with a variety of stakeholders.

Structures of Government

Ministers have again indicated their desire and willingness to complete the 2012 review of Government structures in a timely manner. Processes are already in place to engage all of the Executive parties.

Constructive engagement has taken place with party leaders relating to the number of government departments, including proposals to reduce their number. The First Minister and the deputy First Minister are content to await the outcome of this process before taking decisions on the future of DEL.’

 

This swatch of Executive announcements remained unexplored, unexplained and unsold and was more expansive than anything else in the past year. What is that all about? Who took that decision? ‘

The following pledge however, takes the biscuit:

‘A wide ranging review of the structure and workings of the Executive Information Service has been commissioned by the First and deputy First Ministers. The review will be conducted externally and will be tasked with engaging with a variety of stakeholders.’

What happened to Malcolm McKibbin’s planned examination of the Executive Information Service when he took over in October 2011?

How much is this ‘external’ review of the information service going to cost in 2012/13?

Is it any wonder one Executive minister asked me “how do you think the Executive could come across better?”


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I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.

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