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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 August 2006, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
Politicians find no profit from scribes

By Mark Devenport
Political editor, BBC Northern Ireland

If you are going to work through your holidays, then the least you might expect is a bit of recognition.

The committee has been meeting over the summer

That's the feeling, it seems, of the Stormont politicians who sit on the Preparation for Government Committee, the forum which is meant to be identifying obstacles to the return of devolution.

In their meeting on 16 August, committee members expressed concern about the lack of attention their long hot summer of deliberations has received.

One of the committee's two chairmen, the DUP MLA Jim Wells, complained that "members have given up their holidays, and some individuals, whom I will not name - there are certainly half a dozen - have been extremely faithful and have been here at practically every meeting.

"Despite that, there does not seem to be any perception of that in the media."

The Ulster Unionist Alan McFarland concurred, pointing out that, "Hansard is available on the web" and "anyone who is interested in politics could find some of the issues that the committee has discussed during the past two months very fascinating".

That assertion prompted his colleague Danny Kennedy to tell him to "steady on".

Alerting the media on how to find Hansard may help to some extent, but journalists are just idle
Alan McFarland
Ulster Unionist Party

A discussion followed on whether the Hansard transcript should be posted to local newspapers.

Currently the transcript is put on the assembly website about a week or two after a meeting occurs.

Mr McFarland wasn't convinced posting copies out would make any difference.

"Alerting the media on how to find Hansard may help to some extent" he told committee members "but journalists are just idle."

In fact the committee only decided to publish the transcripts of its proceedings after the BBC put a leaked copy of the Hansard of one of its early meetings on the BBC website.

That move prompted some hot and heavy exchanges within the committee.

But if some Stormont officials favoured taking legal action over the leak, it was later decided that transparency was the best policy.

Last week - before the latest transcript was published - the BBC decided to devote the Inside Politics programme to a discussion of what the Preparation for Government Committee has achieved so far.

A DUP representative, Edwin Poots, showed up in our Stormont studio during the lunch break, but Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd hadn't got our message.

The DUP and the BBC made their way towards the committee room where politicians from across the spectrum were tucking into their food.

As a non committee member I couldn't cross the threshold, but if the DUP passed the vital message to Sinn Fein would that constitute a breach in their policy of no direct dialogue?

Eventually a committee clerk was summoned to pass the message and our programme was back on track.

In truth, the transcripts show dialogue of a kind has taken place. And there has been some agreement on matters such as the departmental structure for policing and justice and the economy.

MI5 Membership

However, committee members acknowledge there's still a long way to go.

Also on 16th August, Jim Wells asked committee members to declare an interest if they were "a member of the Policing Board, a district policing partnership (DPP), MI5 or the security forces."

There then ensued the following exchange -

Fred Cobain (Ulster Unionist): "Do not say that or everyone will put their hand up."

Gerry Kelly (Sinn Fein): "Welcome to MI5."

Danny Kennedy (Ulster Unionist): "You said that you would not say that."

The Chairman (Jim Wells): "If you are being paid by the intelligence services, you must declare it."

"Peter Weir (DUP): "It is purely voluntary work."

Now if someone had declared an MI5 interest, I dare say the committee meeting would have attracted a bit of coverage.





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