Assembly Standing Orders

Part of the debate – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:45 am on 9th March 1999.

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Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP 11:45 am, 9th March 1999

As a member of a "No" party, I have always suggested that the agreement was fraudulent. I am not surprised that Members from the "Yes" camp are trying to avoid scrutiny of the First and Deputy First Ministers. Not all the "Yes" parties are trying to do that, but the two main proponents, the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP, are. I am peeved about that since for years the Ulster Unionist Party has talked about accountable democracy. I have already raised this in the House: if the people of Northern Ireland are to believe that we carrying out our duties effectively, accountable democracy is essential.

From the beginning of the Assembly, the areas of responsibility of the First and Deputy First Ministers have increased and it has been agreed that they should appoint junior Ministers. It was noted that on 18 December 1998 and on the 15 February 1999 the main increase in departmental responsibility was in the Department of the First and Deputy First Ministers.

I ask the Assembly, the Members from the Ulster Unionist Party and from the SDLP, why the Ministers for Regional Development or the Environment or for the Culture, Arts and Leisure need to answer to a scrutiny committee when the First and Deputy First Ministers do not have to? Open and accountable Government should start at the top. The First and Deputy First Ministers must be held to account for the decisions they make. Their reasons should be made public, and nothing should be decided behind closed doors.

Those decisions will be made by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister without reference to the Assembly. Therefore I support Mr P Robinson’s amendment establishing this committee to scrutinise the work of those two Ministers. Much of what they do will be supported by the Assembly, but there may be things which will cause concern to my party or to other parties, so it is essential that this scrutiny committee be set up.