Imelda Marcos and the dangers of multi-jobbing…

23 01 2009

MLAs collect jobs here like Imelda Marcos collected shoes. Double and triple jobbing is fairly common practice, but we think Peter Robinson is going for the jackpot…

… MLA, MP, DUP Leader, First Minister and, for a brief moment on Tuesday, Assembly Clerk!

In a bizarre exchange, Robinson lost his cool (due to some nifty rhetorical footwork from the SDLP’s Declan O’Loan) and intervened to overrule a clerk and to tell the Deputy Speaker how to rule on a point of order he himself raised. Seems fair! (Scroll down to the exchange at 12.30pm.)

Then Deputy Speaker John Dallat (SDLP) leapt to the defence of the administration with some masterly inactivity. No probs John – its under the auspices of the civil service administration that the Legislative Assembly and its Members can function with such considerable support and in such privilege and comfort. Oh, and your job is to ensure the primacy of the authority of the Chamber in the conduct of business. So keep schtum, no big deal. Right?

Wrong. Time for another job share.

Having witnessed the First Minister briefly become Assembly Clerk (and watched Dallat sit on his hands), the SDLP’s Alex Attwood did the job of Deputy Speaker and leap to the defence of the administration. (Scroll down to exchange just before 2pm.)

Mr Attwood: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. All Members are used to the cut and thrust of political debate, and we are all big enough to handle it. However, I am concerned that that cut and thrust of debate among politicians should not be visited upon Assembly staff. Earlier, during an intervention, the First Minister said that your Clerk should listen more carefully, and it was said in an aggressive tone and in a high-handed fashion. I have long been concerned that elements in the Chamber want to erode its authority and the independence of its staff. Notwithstanding that matter, Mr Deputy Speaker, I ask you to examine the Hansard report and to consider the treatment of staff on the Floor of the Chamber during the course of the debate. It was quite clear as to whom the First Minister referred.

Quite right. How did the supine SDLP Deputy Chair respond to the superlative SDLP backbencher?

Well, the Deputy Speaker faced down the creeping arrogance of power (that’s right, we mean you Peter!) by pledging to look at Hansard very, very, very closely indeed. And, er, that’s it.

I know the Assembly is new, but Robbo has been a parliamentarian for 30 years. We’re also told that multi-jobbing ensures experience and a degree of professionalism from our elected officials. But the debate last Tuesday demonstrates how the Assembly can invite criticism for being a sub-parish council free-for-all.

So to recap:

  • Speakers Office – get into a huddle next time and defend the administration from the First Minister. Up yours John Dallat!
  • Peter – keep your hands in your pockets and stop beating up on the staff. Oh, and stop trying to add to your job list. Why not accept that clerks do their jobs?
  • SDLP – nifty footwork, great defence of the administration. High fives Alex Attwood!!
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