Ministerial Code: Independent Investigation of Alleged Breaches

Part of Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:45 pm on 24th January 2017.

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Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party 4:45 pm, 24th January 2017

Sorry, apologies.

I agree completely with Mr Agnew who said, in his opening remarks, that there was a need for an independent open process to investigate ministerial conduct, not least given recent events, and that there will be public anger if the motion is not passed. All of that is consistent with the amendments that Mr Agnew and Claire Sugden moved to John McCallister's Opposition Bill not very long ago.

I am completely at sea to understand Sinn Féin and the DUP's positions today compared to a short time ago, because, when this very matter arose in the Opposition Bill, Sinn Féin and the DUP opposed the then proposal of Steven Agnew to create an independent mechanism for the investigation of complaints against Ministers. They were so opposed to that proposal that neither the DUP nor Sinn Féin even spoke on the amendment in the debate. There had clearly been a cosy arrangement agreed beforehand that both would oppose the principle — at that stage, it was only a principle — that said that procedures be established for the submission of complaints of breaches of the ministerial code and for the investigation of those complaints. So, less than 18 months ago, the DUP and Sinn Féin opposed that proposal.

The curious thing, of course, is the comments of Mr McKay. He accepted a point from me and then said, "Well, actually, since that time the then deputy First Minister has been looking at the matter." Is it not curious that 18 months ago, despite NAMA, despite Red Sky, despite ransom strips — and, for all we know, people might have even known about RHI then — Sinn Féin, despite all that evidence, still gave the DUP a soft landing. Is it not the point of this motion — the last motion of this mandate — that 18 months ago, on issues of accountability about Ministers, around Red Sky, ransom strips and NAMA, Sinn Féin gave the DUP a soft landing? When its own constituency told them that was not acceptable, Sinn Féin, in order to catch up, rushed to an election. That is the consequence of its failure 18 months ago.