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Last Updated: Friday, 19 October 2007, 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK
Is code something of an Enigma?
Jim Fitzpatrick
By Jim Fitzpatrick
Politics Show

So, Margaret Ritchie has broken the ministerial code. See for yourself:

1.5 The Ministerial Code of Conduct referred to at 1.4 is as follows:

Ministers must at all times:- (i) Observe the highest standards of propriety and regularity involving impartiality, integrity and objectivity in relationship to the stewardship of public funds;

(ii) Be accountable to users of services, the community and, through the assembly, for the activities within their responsibilities, their stewardship of public funds and the extent to which key performance targets and objectives have been met;

(iii) Do whatever Peter Robinson says.

Sorry, I made up the third point there. I was hoping you wouldn't notice.

Margaret Ritchie
Margaret Ritchie claims assembly minutes were altered

Funny thing, Margaret Ritchie says the same thing has been happening at the executive.

She claims minutes of last week's executive meeting were altered to suggest she agreed to consult on her decision over the Conflict Transformation Initiative, when her recollection is that she merely agreed to share her legal advice.

Sounds like her word against theirs, "theirs" being the DUP and Sinn Fein.

But it's no longer just her word.

Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey now supports Ms Ritchie's story and has gone further, suggesting the minutes were altered for a particular purpose.

"It's about creating the circumstances where people can claim that she broke the ministerial code," he told BBC Radio's Talkback programme on Friday.

This is explosive stuff.

It means the SDLP and Ulster Unionists are suggesting a conspiracy involving Sinn Fein and the DUP to discredit and possibly hound from office an executive minister.

Sir Reg Empey
The Ulster Unionist leader supports Ms Ritchie

It may be a mandatory coalition, but in such circumstances can it last?

It certainly doesn't seem much like power-sharing, because there doesn't seem to be much sharing going on.

We'll be exploring all those issues in a specially-extended Politics Show on Sunday.

See you then at midday.

Jim

PS: Which ministerial code did Margaret Ritchie break, if any?

It seems the new executive hasn't got round to agreeing a new ministerial code.

So, if she did break a code she broke the one which applied during the lifetime of the first executive.

The same executive which DUP ministers at the time, including Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds, refused to attend.

If Ms Ritchie wants to avoid possibly breaking the code in future, perhaps she should avoid executive meetings.


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