“In the bad old days of the Belfast Agreement, the system of government crafted by the UUP and the other pro-Agreement parties allowed ministers to simply trot off and do whatever they wished within their own departmental remits. Decisions such as that taken by Bairbre de Brun to close maternity services at the Jubilee Maternity Unit and move them into the Royal Victoria Hospital in the heart of her West Belfast constituency, or the decision to abolish the 11+ test, could not be reversed because of the architecture of the old agreement designed by the Ulster Unionists.
Government departments were treated as free-standing silos, independent of each other and ministers, knowing they were utterly unaccountable could do as they pleased. Thanks to the efforts of the Democratic Unionist Party that is no longer the case. Due to the changes which we secured at St. Andrews, Caitriona Ruane cannot initiate any changes to our education system without the consent of her colleagues in the Northern Ireland Executive.
The DUP has secured the future of academic selection in Northern Ireland. The recently leaked Sinn Fein memorandum on the issue admitted as much. We want to find a way forward on the vitally important issue of the future of our education system, but if Caitriona Ruane believes she can simply do whatever she likes on this matter, she is going to be greatly disappointed. She needs to get out of her “Free the Colombia Three”/West Belfast Festival-protest politician-mode and start behaving like a mature government minister trying to find a way forward on an issue of utmost importance.
The Trimble/Empey-days of ministers being in a position to initiate whatever policies they liked are over. Caitriona Ruane can bang her head against this brick-wall for as long as she likes, but sooner or later she will come to the realisation, as have many in her party, that she isn’t operating in a Belfast Agreement-style government: she needs the DUP to bring about any change in the education system and without the DUP she’s going nowhere fast on this issue.