Ulster Unionists bring forward proposals to restore public confidence in the integrity of devolved politics
Call for reform in Ministers& their SPADS, election of the Speaker, Committee functions, Petition of Concern & donor transparency
Ulster Unionist Party Leader Mike Nesbitt said:
“The last ten years of an Executive led by the DUP and Sinn Féin have been characterised by a descending spiral of incompetence, arrogance and the whiff of cronyism and corruption.
“Peter Robinson famously boasted the greatest achievement of the 2007-2011 mandate was that it survived. They cannot even manage that anymore. We have taken bold steps to encourage the institutions to evolve and mature in line with society, not least in creating an official opposition. But the DUP/SF Executive has dragged the reputation of Stormont from the gutter into the sewers.
“Nothing will change unless the public vote for it on the 2nd of March. We understand the public‘s disgust with parties who put their own self-interest over the greater good. It is time to change the record of protecting individual politicians, be they Ministers or Assembly Speakers, and elect parties who will put the interests of the Country first.
“This must be a watershed moment for politics in Northern Ireland. Otherwise the cycle will begin all over again with the politics of fear.
“The public have a very clear choice here - they can vote for parties who want a coalition of the willing, a partnership of parties offering mutual respect, building trust and sharing space, power and responsibility, because it’s the right thing to do for all our people.
“It begins with reform at Stormont. We have identified five areas in need of immediate action in order to clean up Stormont and stop the race to the bottom.”
Executive Ministers & Special Advisers
Ministers must be accountable. There can be no more solo runs, incompetence or breaches of the Ministerial Code without consequence. Ministers alleged to have broken the Code must face investigation. We currently have the situation where an MLA can have their conduct investigated by the Assembly Commissioner for Standards, yet there is no such process for Ministers. It cannot continue to be the case that there is a greater level of accountability placed on MLAs, than on those being trusted with the public purse.
We would legislate to expand the Assembly Commissioner for Standards remit to allow alleged breaches of the Ministerial Code to be reported and investigated.
The role of a Special Adviser is to assist Ministers in running the country and protecting the public purse. Yet on too many occasions Executive SPADs have become the headline. It is time that Special Advisers became subject to the Northern Ireland Civil Service disciplinary process to ensure public confidence in their accountability.
We must also end the situation where some Special Advisers are paid more than an Executive Minister. In the new mandate their salaries must be capped.
The past number of years have seen the Executive embroiled in many scandals, including Red Sky, NAMA and RHI. These have raised allegations around the actions of Ministers and their Special Advisers. If any of these allegations were to be substantiated it is vital that the PSNI has the will and required resource base to deal with any referrals.
Election of Speaker
It is vital that the public and the Assembly can have confidence in the impartiality of the Speaker. In the last mandate this was brought into disrepute.
The election of the Speaker can no longer be subject to a carve-up between the two largest parties. We want to see future Speakers elected through a secret ballot of MLAs.
Executive Ministers must be effectively scrutinised. That role should be performed by the Assembly’s statutory committees, yet their legal duty is to “advise and assist” Ministers, not scrutinise them. We want to strengthen the role of Assembly Committees, making effective, detailed scrutiny a statutory duty.
Petitions of Concern
We must put an end to the abuse of Petitions of Concern, which were designed specifically to protect minority interests, not political parties. No one envisaged the situation where one party had sufficient MLAs to bring forward a PoC on their own. This has corrupted the intent of the PoC, allowing one party to hold a veto over the Assembly. The Petition of Concern was designed to be a valuable mechanism to protect minorities from harmful law changes. Instead we have seen it deployed to protect Nelson McCausland, Sammy Wilson and most recently the Speaker Robin Newton from criticism.
The reduction in the number of MLAs sees the need for a review of the operation of the Petition of Concern mechanism. We would propose a requirement that the signatories must come from more than one party, this maintains the original intent of the petition while limiting opportunities for misuse.
Transparency in Political Donations
The time is right to introduce transparency in political donations. The public want openness at the heart of government, something the DUP and Sinn Fein Executive have a shabby record of.
We want the public to have confidence in the decision makers, and providing them with the information on who is making donations to political parties would be an important step in the right direction.
We have written to the Secretary of State proposing that records of donations to political parties are published from the start of the 2017/2018 financial year.