Wednesday, 4 May 2011

All Change

With only a few days to go before the Stormont election, the DUP has stated explicitly in the Belfast Telegraph "that the Education ministry would be its second choice — after Finance".

The revelation will raise the pressure on Sinn Féin to take the Department as its first choice when the d'Hondt system is next run. Irish-speakers, already disillusioned by the failure to secure a language Act and the havoc wreaked at DCAL by Nelson McCausland, will not take kindly to the party passing up the opportunity to defend what may be a much more important portfolio for the language.

Jim Allister, on his part, believes that Sinn Féin will indeed take Education again, calling the confirmation that his old party will once again opt for Finance "a shameful indictment of the DUP". Barring the unlikely event of Sinn Féin becoming the biggest party, we shall know soon enough.

Less high-profile but equally important, the d'Hondt system will also be run for nominations to the cross-border bodies, including An Foras Teanga, the umbrella body for Foras na Gaeilge and the Ulster-Scots Agency. The "mandatory coalition" of the two speech varieties has meant that candidates are assigned to one or other side only after their nomination, with the result that there has never been any Northern representation for the Catholic or Nationalist third of Ulster's Scots-speakers on the board of the Ulster-Scots Agency. Unionist representation on boards of Foras na Gaeilge has been patchy and in some cases non-existent.

While it might be excessively optimistic to expect Sinn Féin to nominate to the Ulster-Scots Agency, the SDLP has a very distinguished Scots-speaker in the shape of Liam Logan, the former presenter of BBC Radio Ulster's Kist o' Wurds and the party's current MLA candidate in North Down. Though the Blether Region wishes Mr. Logan well in the coming election, it cannot help but think that he would make an excellent and effective nominee to the Ulster-Scots Agency if unsuccessful.

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