End of days

 

Technically Tuesday wasn't the final day of this Assembly session; there are still plenty of committee meetings to complete.

However it marked the final proceedings in the main chamber, and so many ministerial statements had been packed in, it made the blue benches seem positively dynamic.

Certainly it contrasted with the recent short days when MLAs clocked off early without any business to debate.

Junior Minister Jonathan Bell made a spirited attempt to counter the all too frequent criticism of Stormont as a "do nothing" assembly.

His point was that legislation shouldn't be judged on its quantity, but it's quality.

That said, the minister made much of the 26 bills due to be brought forward in the next session.

An eclectic collection covering reservoir management, national parks and sanctions against those persisting in selling tobacco to children.

Ulster Unionist Michael Copeland expressed himself "scundered" that the minister devoted a longer mention to legislation on pavement cages than the controversial issue of welfare reform.

Mr Bell responded by pointing out that complex negotiations remained underway with the coalition government in London.

Another area in which details were sparse was the division of the spoils at the Employment and Learning Department.

Stephen Farry pressed ahead with his ministerial questions still unaware of precisely how the FM and DFM plan to carve up his cake.

We had Edwin Poots on TYC (which stands for Transforming Your Care).

Let's hope that the elderly moved out of residential accommodation under TYC are given plenty of TLC and not abandoned in their homes.

Then Nelson McCausland on the failings of the Housing Executive to manage its contractors, a topic which my colleague Julian O'Neill has covered elsewhere on this website.

Then Alex Attwood on cash for politicians - not the most voter-friendly initiative this, but an outworking of the streamlining of our councils.

Only veterans can apply for the severance, the minister explained, and his moderate scheme would cost less than the £4m plus payments proposed three years ago.

It's not clear how much of the scheme will be financed by Stormont and how much by the councils - either way it's ultimately at the public expense.

The minister justified pay-outs as recognition to the "unsung heroes" who kept the democratic wheels turning during the dark days of the troubles.

Let's see if the rate-payers agree.

There was more, including confirmation of a joint Stormont-Dail meeting to finalise arrangements for a north-south parliamentary forum.

Back in the old days, unionists would have rejected any talk of such a forum as a conspiracy to create an embryonic all-Ireland parliament.

But that was before Martin shook hands with the Queen and Peter shook hands with Martin and the Orange Grand Secretary went to Dublin to check out whether the senators down there would mind if he brought his brethren back for a wee parade.

Now a north-south forum looks like just another date in an MLA's diary - the only problem being that with all these bills coming up, it might be hard to squeeze it in.

 
Mark Devenport Article written by Mark Devenport Mark Devenport Political editor, Northern Ireland

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