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7 January 1999 Edition

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Assembly departments agreed

A not so perfect 10

By Ned Kelly

Every sheepdog in the field knew there would need to be ten departments in the new executive. It was the Sinn Fein agenda, and as such it was a victory. But unfortunately the wolf in sheep's clothing, otherwise known as the SDLP, allowed three important advances to be lost.

As the details of the deal emerged over the Friday and Saturday before Christmas it became obvious that an SDLP/UUP alliance meant the opportunity for a separate Department of Equality had been lost to David Trimble's `central secretariat'. That tourism and an all-Ireland inward investment body were also sacrificed to the Unionist veto was also disappointing.

The First Minister and Deputy's office get a liaison role, economic policy and policy innovation, and more importantly the equality and community relations briefs.

The ten departments are; Agriculture and Rural Development; Regional Development; Social Development; Education; Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment; Enterprise, Training and Investment; Culture, Arts and Leisure; Health, Social Services and Public Safety; Finance and Personnel.

Gerry Adams greeted the ten departments as ``a critical threshold for nationalists'' and welcomed progress as ``a positive thing in itself''.

But Mitchel McLaughlin hit the nail on the head when he asked: ``Does Sean Farren [the SDLP negotiator] honestly believe that David Trimble, given his track record and his refusal to even agree to a meeting with his constituents on the Garvaghy Road, is the best person to have a controlling influence on the Equality agenda?''

The NIO's central secretariat has also been shamed in a document to a local Belfast newspaper.

The leaked confidential circular indicates that 131 top quango jobs are being advertised internally despite a paper commitment to the principles of equality of opportunity and merit.

Taken together, Trimble's control of the Equality agenda and the central secretariat's role in controlling influential bodies like the IFI, Local Enterprise Development Unit, the Training and Employment Agency and the newly created Chief Commissioner for the Human Rights Commission and Police Ombudsman become obstacles to creating equality.

That the SDLP seem prepared to accept an extension to the deadline for the formation of the Executive and all-Ireland Ministerial Council is also disappointing, if not totally unexpected.

McLaughlin reacted to Sean Farren's recent statement calling for decommissioning before an the Executive is formed, saying, ``Farren's apparent support for Unionist efforts to elevate the decommissioning issue to the status of a precondition and an obstacle to Sinn Fein's legitimate membership of the formation of the Executive and all-Ireland Ministerial Council is at odds with the Good Friday Agreement.''

This cosy alliance between the SDLP and UUP is not built around the politics of inclusion, equality or power sharing, it is built on the politics of exclusion, it does not recognise poverty or need and in part it is built on middle class hypocrisy.


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