Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 14 December 1999 (continued)

Junior Ministerial Offices


Motion made:

That this Assembly approves the determination by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister of the number of junior ministerial offices, the procedure for appointment and the functions which would be exercisable by the holder of each such office. - [The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister]

The First Minister (Mr Trimble):

I should like to introduce the determination on the Order Paper under Executive Committee Business. The draft determination before the Assembly concerns junior Ministers. Section 19 of the Northern Ireland Act provides that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, acting jointly, may, at any time, determine that a number of Members should be appointed as junior Ministers and what functions should be exercisable by them. We have made a joint determination which would allow for the appointment of two junior Ministers by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. To be effective, such determination must be approved by the Assembly and, if approved, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have seven days to make the appointments. This does not preclude further appointments in the future, but the current ones would be to the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, and, consequently, the persons appointed must command their confidence.

4.45 pm

The functions of these junior Ministers are set out in the determination. They cover the discrete policy areas of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister but not the responsibility for the institutional elements relating to the Executive Committee, the North/South Ministerial Council, the British-Irish Council or the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which matters fall to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister as of right.

The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is one of the new Northern Ireland Departments. The report we made to the Assembly on 15 February 1999 outlined the responsibilities of the Office. The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister has responsibility for the Economic Policy Unit, equality and community relations. It will liaise with the North/South Ministerial Council, the British-Irish Council, the British-Irish Governmental Conference, the Civic Forum, the International Fund for Ireland and with the Secretary of State on excepted and reserved matters.

The Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister will also deal with European affairs and international matters, and it will include the Policy Innovation Unit and the Executive Information Service. In addition, the Office will undertake important work in relation to human rights and equality, and it will be responsible for the Office of the Legislative Counsel.

The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister also have extremely important joint functions under strand one of the Good Friday Agreement. They convene and preside over the Executive Committee and co-ordinate its work and the response of the Northern Ireland Administration to external relations.

A crucial feature of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is that it is a Department headed jointly by myself and the Deputy First Minister. There is, consequently and inevitably, a considerable element of negotiation between the two parts of the Office involved in jointly resolving policies and actions, and this places a particular burden on it which other Departments do not carry.

Members will recall that the report of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister set out in detail some of the functions of the Economic Policy Unit. I do not need to rehearse all those functions in detail. They include undertaking, together with the Minister of Finance and Personnel and the Secretary of State, negotiations with the Treasury on the size of the Northern Ireland block grant and on European Union and International Fund for Ireland funding; determining, within the Executive Committee, the Administration's detailed strategic goals and inputting them into the programme of government and the allocation of financial resources; co-ordinating the Executive's economic policies and monitoring the effectiveness of public spending in achieving the Administration's economic goals, including having responsibility for the economic and social steering groups; co-ordinating European Union policy and reviewing the progress and effectiveness of European Union and International Fund for Ireland funding; and providing central initiatives such as the Policy Innovation Unit and improving the effectiveness of management in government.

Members will be aware of the importance of equality and human rights matters in the Belfast Agreement. That is reflected in the provisions of the Northern Ireland Act, creating, as it does, a single Equality Commission and establishing the Human Rights Commission. The legislative and executive competence of the Assembly, Ministers and Northern Ireland Departments is constrained by the obligation to act compatibly with the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. That convention is now operative with regard to devolved matters in Northern Ireland, even if the Human Rights Act is not yet in force with regard to other matters. The Assembly has no power to pass legislation requiring Ministers or Departments to do anything which discriminates against any person on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion. The Act also requires equality schemes to be prepared by public offices. These are critical functions for the Northern Ireland Executive Committee, and they will require sustained ministerial oversight.

I have given a picture of the functions of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, and I have underlined the wide range and critical importance of those functions in a number of crucial areas but particularly in respect of matters of policy co-ordination. This is a remarkable burden that the Deputy First Minister and I have to carry, and it was for that reason that I reached the conclusion that we urgently need ministerial deputies to whom much of the day-to-day work could be delegated and done under our joint supervision.

In mentioning the extent of the burden, I do not intend in any way to diminish the role of other ministerial colleagues in running their Departments, but I think that it will be acknowledged that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have a role in their own Department and in and through the Executive Committee which differs significantly from that of a departmental Minister.

The Deputy First Minister (Mr Mallon): It is crucially important that the work of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister should not suffer from the attention of its Ministers being focused on the wider issues that the Administration as a whole has to face and the very demanding representative role that they both have to play at regional, national and international level. Accordingly, the First Minister and I have decided that it would be in the best interests of our Department if it were to be assisted by two junior Ministers.

I wish to say how we propose junior Ministers should operate and how they should be appointed. Junior Ministers would operate entirely under the direction and control of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, who will remain responsible to the Assembly for all that happens in that office. That is as it should be.

The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister operate jointly, decisions have to be taken jointly, and in appointing junior Ministers we must have regard to that. Each of the two junior Ministers will be responsible for assisting the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in the exercise of their functions in relation to the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

Will the Deputy First Minister and the First Minister alone answer in the House, or will the junior Ministers also answer in respect of their particular brief?

A Member:

In Committees.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

And in Committees.

The Deputy First Minister:

I will deal with that matter later. As I have said, in parallel with the joint responsibility of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, each of the two junior Ministers will have joint responsibility. However, within that arrangement there is substantial specific and urgent work for junior Ministers to take forward, particularly with regard to the Economic Policy Unit, the Equality Unit and work on community relations, the Civic Forum and victims. That is a huge panoply within the Equality Unit - so huge that when we were in serious deliberations about Departments many Members, with some justification, advocated that the issue of equality should have a Department of its own. I am conscious of the fact that there are enormous amounts of work to be done in that unit, not least in relation to the question of women's rights and the rights of children.

It is understood that it may arise that the junior Ministers, rather than the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, should appear before Assembly Committees to answer questions. We will make arrangements in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to decide how junior Ministers will appear and exercise accountability to the Assembly.

There have already been suggestions that the appointment of junior Ministers should be taken forward by using the d'Hondt mechanism which led to the appointment of Ministers to this Executive. I understand why that may seem superficially attractive. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister need to have full confidence in the junior Ministers. Those junior Ministers will act under the direction and control of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and will pursue policy objectives that are endorsed by both of us.

To draw junior Ministers from other parties would cause difficulties in at least two ways. First, there would be difficulties for the junior Ministers themselves. They would need to subordinate their own political views to those of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in carrying forward the policy and direction that is jointly established by us. Secondly, there would be difficulties in terms of our confidence in junior Ministers who hold different political philosophies and beliefs.

We have made it clear that this is an initial determination. On the basis of the merits of the arguments, we shall have to consider whether other colleagues will also need junior Ministers. Given the limited amount of time that they have been in post, it has not been possible to form a sensible judgement about that.

There is one safeguard worth mentioning. Any future determination for junior Ministers will automatically result in junior Ministers who are appointed under this determination ceasing to hold office. In other words, any future determination must cover all junior ministerial appointments. That means that there is no question of our adding to the number of junior Ministers without the Assembly's being able to view the overall position and form a judgement about whether the allocation of junior Ministers is in line with the needs of government.

We have therefore determined, as we were empowered to do by section 19(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, that two Members will be appointed as junior Ministers, that the appointments will be made by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister acting jointly, and that the function of the junior Ministers will be to assist the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in the exercise of the full range of policy responsibilities of their Office.

This determination meets specific identified needs. Good government requires the appointment of junior Ministers in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to carry forward the important policy areas that the Assembly has decided should reside there.

Mr Speaker:

In order to avoid confusion, may I point out that when the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are acting jointly that will be identified as such on the Order Paper. Therefore any proposal by them will be a joint proposal. That is why, as in this case, Members will find both of them speaking at the same point in the debate.

When they table a motion to which both names are appended but are not specifically acting as the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, one of them may move a motion and make the winding-up speech, or one may move the motion and the other deliver the winding-up speech. There is a difference between that and the provisions in the Initial Standing Orders under which only one person could move a motion and deliver the winding-up speech. I mention that to avoid confusion and because it may be relevant to the amendment in the names of Dr Paisley and Mr Dodds.

Mr Dodds:

I beg to move the following amendment: Delete all the words after "That" and add

"this Assembly, keeping in mind that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have already six paid assistants in their Office, disapproves their determination to appoint two further, junior Ministers."

The amendment stands in my name and that of Rev Dr Ian Paisley. First, I listened carefully to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and heard the list of responsibilities which the First Minister read out. Any Minister could list a considerable number of responsibilities, some of them in a broad range of policy areas, yet Ministers have one special adviser and one private office. Let us set this matter in context. Members will recall that when proposals were being drawn up about the membership of the Assembly, the Democratic Unionist Party made it clear that 108 Members were far too many. However, it was agreed that there should be 108 Members.

If I am correct, this happened at the particular insistence of one of the smaller parties, which did not succeed in getting elected to this House. It was adamant that six Members should be elected from each of the 18 constituencies. The number of Members was dictated not by the interests or the needs of the people of Northern Ireland but by political considerations and for political interests.

5.00 pm

Similarly, when the House determined the number of Departments, it was clear to many of us that there was no real justification in having 10 Departments to serve the people of Northern Ireland and meet the needs of the community. As we pointed out at the time, the Deputy First Minister, Mr Mallon, was on record in a Sunday newspaper as saying that this happened for political reasons, to ensure that sufficient places were created to satisfy the political demands of parties in the House.

Once again, to satisfy paper needs, there is a proposal for two junior Ministers for the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Nothing said by the two Gentlemen who have spoken has given any real justification for the appointment of two more Ministers, no doubt with two more private offices, more civil servants at their beck and call and special advisers in addition to those already there - three special advisers, each with a private office.

When one considers what is already at the disposal of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to assist them in the execution of the various duties which they are asked to perform under the terms of the legislation and by agreement with the House, one cannot sensibly come to the conclusion that this justifies the appointment of two more Ministers - other than for the purposes of putting political appointees in positions and creating jobs for the boys.

I was interested to hear Mr Mallon say that it would not be possible or feasible or realistic to have junior Ministers who did not have the same political affiliation as their principals. Yet we have a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister who are of different parties.

A Member:

Are they? [Laughter]

Mr Dodds:

Others can develop that point. They have had their differences, yet it is impossible, we are told, to have junior Ministers who are from different parties, even though the entire system of government set up around this Assembly -

Mr A Maginness


Mr Dodds:

Mr Maginness may have questions about who is going to fill these junior ministries and so on, but he should address them to Mr Mallon. There will be opportunities in the debate for others to participate.

The reality is that the argument that junior Ministers may not be from different political parties does not stand up. The two senior Gentlemen are from different political parties, and the Government is made up of different political parties.

I find it disturbing that the determination contains no job description for these junior Ministers. We know only that they will assist the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in the exercising of their functions. What functions these junior Ministers will exercise has been left completely open, and we are to be asked to vote for them even though we do not know specifically what they will do. After hearing from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister we still do not know exactly what the lines of accountability are going to be. Will the junior Ministers come forward to answer questions in this House on behalf of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister? Will they go to the Committee of the Centre?

I hope that we will eventually get a Committee set up to examine the functions of the Centre, for, having taken the decision last week to set up two Standing Committees, I notice that this week we are going to abolish those Committees and set up a different one.

Will the junior Ministers stand in for their superiors in the Committee? That has not been indicated either. It is quite clear that there is no real justification for these appointments. It is purely a case of ensuring a little bit more political patronage so that Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon can satisfy members of their own parties.

Northern Ireland will be the most over-governed part of Europe that it is possible to imagine, with many Ministers, junior Ministers, Assembly Members, councils and quangos. The House is aware of the feedback from the community last week, yet here we are, on the proposal of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, once again being asked to spend more on posts that are unnecessary in terms of the functioning of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Two Ministers are surely enough. They would not want to admit that they are not up to carrying out all the functions that are within the remit of this determination. Are they saying that they cannot handle it, that they do not have the time to do it, or that other pressing engagements take up their time and they need extra help? No proper, coherent case has been presented. It is clearly a case of jobs for the boys, and the House should reject it.

Mr Speaker:

The debate will now be on the amendment. If the amendment is passed, there will be no vote on the substantive motion. If the amendment falls, there will be a vote on the motion.

Mr McLaughlin:

Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. Sinn Féin will vote against the amendment. We recognise the need for junior Ministers. That has been our consistent position. However, we have considerable difficulty with the determination because it is so imprecise. Why is the Assembly being asked to vote for what will be virtually a blank cheque for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister?

We have agreed and have given authority to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to nominate and appoint, but we require them to give us specific information about the functions. The documentation states that the junior Ministers will assist the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in exercising of their functions. That has to qualify as the most indeterminate determination possible.

The point was well made by the proposer of the amendment that the Assembly is not equipped with the information that would allow it to make an informed decision. Is there any good reason why the Assembly was not afforded the courtesy of such information? Why should Assembly Members have to rely on media speculation about what is in the minds of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister? Even a home help would be given a job description. This is a serious issue.

There is possibly a disagreement about how the functions of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister should be divided. Perhaps a convention of "I'll have whatever you're having, and let us set aside all this trouble with accountability, proportionality and inclusiveness" has been arrived at.

If this Assembly is about anything, it is about a new beginning. We should set jobbery behind us for ever. Throughout the tortuous process that brought the Assembly into existence, Sinn Féin campaigned for transparency and accountability. We argued for checks and balances, democratic inclusiveness and proportionality. We have campaigned, as every party here will testify, for senior stand-alone Departments to be established for equality and children's rights. We have also argued vociferously that the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is top-heavy.

It is not surprising that there is a need for junior Ministers. If we had gone for a more equitable distribution across the Departments, this issue might not now be before the House. Despite our disappointment at losing those arguments in last year's negotiations, Sinn Féin Members were hopeful that our concerns would be addressed by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Regrettably that has not happened. They have spurned an opportunity to demonstrate a wider vision for our society. They have chosen to forgo an opportunity to set aside party political interests for the wider interest. It is a matter of great regret that they have chosen jobs for the boys rather than inclusion.

The Office of the Centre is to become a closed shop for the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP. In their remarks, neither the First Minister nor the Deputy First Minister had the grace to admit that that is their position. Sinn Féin will vote against the motion and against the amendment. We shall ask the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to reconsider this matter, both in terms of the specified functions of the junior Ministers and in respect of the benefits to the new political process of an inclusive approach that could bring some of the smaller parties into the frame. Go raibh míle maith agat.

Mr Ford:

As has already been said, this is a rerun of the debate of 15 and 16 February, when we covered the report from the then First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate). In that debate Members expressed concern about openness and accountability. As Mr McLaughlin says, we also discussed the setting up of Departments and the issue of equality, human rights, community relations and victims needing a Department of their own.

The determination is extraordinarily vague. I wish I had thought of the "indeterminate determination" line. I listened to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, and I think that we have at least established something a little bit more determinate than was initially put on paper. It would have been much better if it had been put on paper in the first place. We seem to be discussing two major functions - the economic policy unit, with European connections and all that that implies, and the equality human rights, et cetera agenda. It is sad that issues such as community relations and victims' rights are now regarded as an "et cetera". We have not had the level of detail I had hoped for, although the Ministers did start to put a little flesh on the bones.

I am concerned about their raising the issue of confidence between Ministers and junior Ministers. Perhaps it is a statement of the current situation. Confidence is not exactly brimming over in the Chamber. It is understandable that people want their friends beside them. One reason Alliance Party Members will not take any junior Ministerial posts is that we do not see that as a viable option for a party which has no seats in the Executive. I welcome the Deputy First Minister's assurance that any future determination on junior Ministers will affect the existing appointments. Therefore the matter has to be kept under review.

5.15 pm

I have considerable problems with the amendment proposed by the DUP. Mr Dodds eloquently explained some of the problems but failed to outline many of the solutions. Had he been querying the six paid assistants, rather than the appointment of junior Ministers, he might have had more sympathy from my party.

Mr McLaughlin asked for some information. I hope that the Ministers, when they wind up, will add to the information given so far. I take issue with him on one point. He said that the arguments were not won - referring to the setting up of Departments in the December statement. Some Members did win the arguments, but the two largest parties dictated what was going to happen. Members will have to take issue on how that will be handled when the four-year review comes up. Clearly there are problems. Junior Ministers are needed now because the only alternative is to reconsider the way the 10 Departments were cast last December. It has only taken Members 51 weeks to realise the mistakes that were made.

I ask the Ministers to be more specific than they were in their opening speeches. Will they assure Members that there will be real roles for junior Ministers? These have been hinted at, but will there be real and clearly defined roles for these two Ministers, and for any future junior Ministers, before the determination is laid before the House - not a week or two after it?

Mr Mallon said that the Ministers will decide how the junior Ministers will answer to the Assembly. Can an assurance be given that Members will be told exactly how this will be done, if not at the end of this debate, then soon after?

One important possible use of junior Ministers has been ignored so far - namely, on those important cases where cross-departmental issues arise (for example, family and children's issues). I was nearly going to include the environment, which is supposed to be at the heart of the Government, but Mr Foster has left, and he might not have appreciated it.

Issues relating to families and children are of major concern across a number of Departments. Can Members be assured that the issue will be taken on board and properly co-ordinated within the Centre?

Mr B Hutchinson:

I also oppose this motion. I oppose it on the grounds of the briefs of the junior Ministers, which my party would argue are far too broad and do not give an opportunity for an impact to be made on the workload and responsibilities of the Assembly. It would have been better if the appointments were to Departments other than the Office of the First and the Deputy First Minister. An obvious choice, and many parties have mentioned it, would have been a junior Minister for children. We are also concerned about the lack of information and believe that it makes it impossible for my party to support the motion standing in the names of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

I listened to Sinn Féin's response. It seems that it is arguing for a slice of the cake rather than considering how the posts would best serve the community. Mitchel McLaughlin said that even home helps would have a job description - people who serve the elderly just as well as two junior Ministers would serve the Centre. Members must put this into context. I am sure that there will be an opportunity tomorrow to talk about what this is going to cost, and the money that the four parties which sit in Government will receive above the basic wage.

If an impact is going to be made, Members must ensure that people are put in positions where they can work across Departments and not just in one area.

Ms McWilliams:

I am also concerned about the appointment of these two junior Ministers. In annex 1(a) of the report of 15 February 1999, the functions of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister were laid out. I note that there were 26 functions. It seems that some of these have now been cut back or disappeared altogether. The determination is so general that it does not tell Members which of these functions are going to be delegated to junior Ministers and which will remain with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

If we are proposing to pay a junior Minister £55,341 we should require the post to have a job description. This represents an increase of £17,305 on a Member's salary - assuming that the Member does not already hold another position.

The Assembly has already paid out £652,216 - in terms of the allocation of the posts of First Minister and Deputy First Minister, Chairpersons, Deputy Chairpersons and Assembly Commissioners - to the four parties in the Government. Before any more appointments are made each post should have a detailed job description, especially if it commands a substantial salary.

Mr Ervine:

Was this figure not agreed unanimously by the Assembly Commission?

Mr Maskey:

On a point of order, a Chathaoirligh. I understand that the members of the Assembly Commission operate on a non-party basis and do not necessarily represent their parties when making decisions. The Assembly will decide, and Members should bear that in mind. If they want to be smart, they should get the facts.

Mr Speaker:

Members of the Assembly Commission are expected to act in the interests of all the Members of the Assembly.

Ms McWilliams:

The point I was making is that in acting in that interest they have allocated £652,216 to four particular parties. It is with that concern in mind that I stress that we must be held accountable. Therefore we should have job descriptions for the posts we continue to allocate. None of the parties are opposed to the position of junior Minister; we simply want to know in detail what that junior Minister is expected to do.

The issue that we come across during our constituency work - and this has already been debated in the Assembly - is that we have missed a trick by not looking at the needs of families and children. Northern Ireland is now the only devolved region that has not got a ministerial portfolio for families and children. Wales and Scotland have such a portfolio.

The motion is about the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, and, again, I am concerned about the functions contained in that Office. Yesterday I was concerned that two Ministers, each with his own portfolio, took on the portfolio of "Minister for some victims" when they should have been attending to their own portfolios elsewhere.

We need to respond to the desperate needs in the community. Members who listened to last week's debates should note in particular the issue of the memorial fund - this was raised by victims - and the lack of money coming from that fund to those who have suffered. The question victims constantly ask me - and I am sure they ask other Members - is "Whom do we go to?" It seems that Adam Ingram has this portfolio as a reserved responsibility. If the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister has a function in relation to victims, what is it exactly? Is it intented that all four Ministers and Adam Ingram should share this function between them?

I am also concerned that women's issues, as usual, are last on the agenda. I am not sure if that is because women are far down in the alphabet or because that is where certain people consider they should be - the responsibility of a junior Minister.

We need to pay attention to this. If a junior Ministry on women's issues had been established we might well have asked why, if the process of nominations to these bodies and implementation bodies is so transparent and so accountable, only 25% of the nominees are women. If we in Northern Ireland are to give ourselves the fresh start which the agreement constantly speaks about, then we have to move away from what has been referred to today over and over again as jobs for the boys - though I assume that sometimes those boys are men.

My party is opposed to the amendment. The position of paid assistants will be discussed in a later debate and has no relevance at this time to the appointment of junior Ministers.

Mr McCartney:

Mr Speaker, I am sure that you, along with the other Members of this Assembly, will recall that in George Orwell's 'Animal Farm' it was the pigs who were in charge of the operation and that Napoleon the pig pointed out that, while all animals were equal, some - namely the pigs - were more equal than others. A point has been well made here that the major parties, particularly the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists, have hogged the spoils of devolution. What has happened today is another example of this.

Even the harsh critics of the peace process and of devolution - those on the editorial columns of the 'Belfast Telegraph' and the 'News Letter' - were somewhat put out last week to find that one of the Assembly's first acts was to vote its Members a pay rise. And I made some comments about that.

I am glad that Prof McWilliams has raised this point again, because this is another example of jobs being allotted to Members of the major parties. Can anyone here doubt for a moment that Mr Trimble will appoint one of the worthies from the Ulster Unionist Party or that Mr Mallon will feel most comfortable with a member of the SDLP? In relation to the cross-border bodies, I have already referred to the basis upon which it appeared to me - and, I believe, to many members of the public - the four aspirants for office in the quangos were appointed from the ranks of the Unionist Party, and we are having a rerun here.

I was under the illusion that the Executive (indeed, the entire Assembly) was based not on the usual principle under which democracies operate - there being a majority and an Opposition which hopes to become the majority by persuading people to its way of thinking - but on this wonderful new consensus democracy. It was to be hands across the ocean and across the border, and everybody was to work in the spirit of political ecumenism.

We were to have a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister who were to work like a pair of Siamese twins joined at hip and thigh, and they were going to operate for the betterment of the entire community. Instead, we heard in the Deputy First Minister's speech the suggestion that what is really needed to make this process work is a junior Minister who is not only a person from your own party but also someone you can trust implicitly because you may have to deal with the enemy within - that, of course, being Mr Trimble and his chum, who will be close by him protecting his back against the ravages of the SDLP.

Mr S Wilson:

Will the Member give way?

5.30 pm

Mr McCartney:

Not at the moment.

That is the scenario that we have. When I was a member of the Standing Orders Committee I indicated that the great danger in the Assembly - at that stage members of the minority parties and even Sinn Féin agreed with me - was that we would have a very strong centralised Executive dominated by the two major parties, who would essentially carve up everything. The SDLP could always deliver the Nationalists no matter what Sinn Féin thought, and the Ulster Unionist Party could always deliver, or almost deliver, the Unionists. Between them they would carve up everything and divide the spoils.

I am in favour of this amendment. The Assembly, the Executive and all its outworkings are expensive and, in many cases, unnecessary and, I venture, will be inefficient. When I had discussions with Mr Mallon about the number of Departments, it became perfectly plain - as Mr Dodds has pointed out - that the criterion was not efficiency or having the right number to deliver an effective administration. They decided there should be 10 Departments because, under the d'Hondt system which had already been worked out, that would make for harmony. There would be five Nationalist and five Unionist Ministers.

There was no need for 10 Departments and 108 Members. In Scotland, where the population is three times that in Northern Ireland and where they have greater devolved powers, which include the tax-raising power, there are 129 Members. If they were pro rata with Northern Ireland they would have 350 Members. Similarly, Wales would have 218 Members instead of 60. Mr Dodds is absolutely correct in saying that the Assembly is completely overburdened given the number of Members and the Executive. However, having got that far, we have spawned, on the consensus principle, two First Ministers, 10 Ministers, 10 Committee Chairmen, with the possibility of an additional two, and 12 Deputy Chairmen, all of whom are on the payroll. Now we are to have two quite unnecessary junior Ministers.

I raised the issue of salaries being paid to the porkers in the House of Commons when the power to appoint junior Ministers was discussed. It was not sufficient that we were to be overburdened with Members and Ministers - the porkers - but we were going to be able to let the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, as a matter of largesse and patronage, deliver fodder to the piglets, the baby Ministers and junior Ministers. The Deputy First Minister did not say that this was to be the end of the breeding pen of the piglets. He hinted that by a process, perhaps of artificial insemination, more litters of piglets would be delivered to the other Ministers. He was not ruling out the possibility that these baby porkers would be snuffling away at the fodder at some future date. We could have 10 little grunters all snouting about, each playing a role as a gofer for their respective Ministers.

Prof McWilliams and the other Members got it right when they spoke eloquently about the lack of definition in the duties of these baby Ministers. They do not have anything specific assigned to them. They are going to be gofer piglets - "go for this" and "go for that". They will be at the beck and call of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, and they will have to be friendly little piglets who grunt at the correct time because the large boars would be discomfited by having people beside them who were not happy with what they were being asked to do.

I speak of this in jest, but there is a very important, underlying principle which the public should be alerted to. It is the principle that public funds will be provided out of the block grant or from an increase in the regional rate - funds that will not be spent on hospitals or children's issues or a myriad of social and economic needs and requirements. They are going to be spent on fodder for the piglets. It is all about jobs for the boys.

Let us look at the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Between them they will employ six special advisers on a scale between £22,000 and £70,000. Rest assured few of them will come in at the bottom of the scale. These advisers are specialists who must have particular esoteric knowledge to advise the heavyweights whom they serve. They are going to cost a lot of money and will be at the beck and call of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Of course that is only the top layer - the close chums to whom the new Minister will be added. There is also a raft of highly qualified civil servants with specific tasks who will be assisting the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in the discharge of their duties.

The truth is that these junior Ministers are being appointed for the purpose of affording another means of party political control to the parties that really matter. The Northern Ireland Office was not interested in any of the little parties because none of them could deliver individually or collectively. Members of the Women's Coalition, the Progressive Unionist Party and the Alliance Party should be under no illusions that they have any clout here. They do not. They are here to make up the numbers. It was necessary to have 108 Members for the purpose of distribution. Members should realise that far from being a democratic Assembly this is an Assembly created by the machinations of the Northern Ireland Office to serve the interests of the British Government. The numbers, the distributions, the system and the placing of power in an Executive are designed to serve those interests.

I was surprised when I read two speeches of the Secretary of State, Mr Mandelson, in which he talked about an Assembly that was accountable to the Executive. He talked not about an Executive that was accountable to the Assembly but about an Assembly that was accountable to the Executive - and that was repeated twice. I pointed this out to Senator George Mitchell. He said that he would take it up with the Secretary of State, but he thought that perhaps it was a mistake. If it was a mistake it was one that was repeated not once but twice, and it was never remedied.

In the wider scope of things Members may ask what Bob McCartney is talking about - this is about two junior Ministers. These two junior Ministers and the power of the two major parties to appoint them goes right to the heart of the matter. It is an example of the power that will continue to be exercised through the Executive by the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party.

Some parties in the Assembly are not minnows; they are budding herrings. I am talking about Sinn Féin and the DUP - both substantial parties in their own right, but in this game not carrying a great deal more clout than the smaller parties collectively.

I support the amendment. This is an example of unnecessary political jobbery. Nothing has ever arisen to show us that it is necessary. I share and sympathise with the views of Monica McWilliams and others about the criteria or job descriptions for these posts. The reason there is no clearly defined job description - a Minister for children's issues, a Minister for women and children's issues, or a Minister for any of the other matters - is that this is not about servicing a need. These appointments are about servicing party needs.


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