This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards,but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Skip to content....

text size: Decrease text-size Increase text-size

Skip to content....

"Questionable" behaviour that can both irritate and enlighten

30 September 2011

The following article by Noel McAdam appeared in today’s Belfast Telegraph:

A single Assembly Member has tabled more questions than two entire parties. The MLA in question is Jim Allister – and the parties are Alliance and Sinn Fein.

The Traditional Unionist Voice leader, who is in Speaker William Hay’s bad books, has put down 227 questions since the new Assembly resumed in May – while the 29 members of Sinn Fein managed 187.

The Alliance, which has nine members, totalled 156.

According to Assembly figures, based on questions tabled for written answer between May and September 22, the breakdown for the remainder is:
• DUP: 1,336
• SDLP: 333
• UUP: 258
• Steven Agnew, Green Party: 45
• David McClarty, Independent: 5

But are there no restrictions on MLAs firing questions, particularly when they cost public money – and civil servants’ time – to respond to?

Under the Assembly’s standing order 20B, members may submit up to five questions for written answer each working day.

But there is no system to determine whether they are worthwhile questions in the first place, no criteria or test which an MLA has to pass.

Mr Allister may argue he is somewhat forced down the written question route recently. And after badgering Mr Hay this week, he will not be permitted to speak at all next week.

The North Antrim MLA fears that he is only being given “permission to speak” on less controversial issues.

On Monday I watched as he got to his feet five times during a single question to acting deputy First Minister John O’Dowd on the Maze conflict resolution centre, always failing to catch the eye of the Speaker (although a half-hour later he was finally given permission to speak on the Social Protection Fund). Allister appears to enjoy his irritant status, but is in turn disparaged more than most.

In answering a point this week, DUP minister Nelson McCausland said of him: “There are some folk who, with the best will in the world, can find the most negative thing to say in anything. The member certainly excels himself in that regard”.

Privately, however, some MLAs will admit that Allister has been punching above his weight and his relentless barrage of questions has found out for example:

• The First and deputy First Ministers’  Office has spent £16,036,000 on consultants since May 2007.
• Northern Ireland receives no recompense for treating people from the Republic of Ireland in Northern Ireland hospitals.
• The Executive contributed £685,233 to the North South Ministerial Council in 2009 and £1,142,233 in 2010.

Then there is the whole raft of questions on special advisers which show that since 2007 one department alone, Employment and Learning, has spent £37,307 on pension contributions for special advisers.

And even if Allister is kept off the floor of the Chamber next week – his only hope is if another MLA gives way, and deputy Speaker Francie Molloy has already warned Members about that – he will still be asking questions.

back to list 

NI politics