Andrew Madden’s weekly political spin: From the ‘Northern Irish psyche’ to ‘fake news’

“Given the draconian nature of the emergency powers and the undemocratic harm they are doing, the brutal impact of lockdown measures on mental health, suicide, self-harm, on isolation of our people, what work has the Executive undertaken to establish the true cost of the Executive’s undemocratic decisions?” he asked.

The irony was not lost on deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, who said as much, adding: “I mean, the Executive has taken democratic decisions the whole way through the pandemic, the Executive has sought to work together to protect lives and livelihoods, the Executive and every minister sitting around that table is there to do right by the public which we serve.”

During a sobering debate on gambling legislation, there were a few moments of levity. When Europhile MLA Matthew O’Toole revealed he placed a bet on Europe on the team’s ill-fated Ryder Cup bid, he admitted: “Europe let me down – that is the first time that I will use that phrase in the Assembly chamber.”

Meanwhile, when speaking about concerns over the Northern Ireland Protocol, Sinn Fein’s Declan Kearney told the Assembly that negative portrayals of the impact of the protocol are “fake news”. He said much of the narrative presenting the protocol as a bad thing “flies in the face of reality”, adding that many business here were benefitting from the mechanism’s dual access provision that enables Northern Ireland traders to sell goods unfettered in both the UK internal market and the EU single market.


Tuesday saw Ulster Day 2021 and with it, a joint unionist statement outlining their opposition to the NI Protocol. Among the signatories were TUV leader Jim Allister and PUP leader Billy Hutchinson. Curious, as less than a week ago Mr Allister tabled a Bill which sought to ban political appointees with serious convictions from sitting on public bodies – specifically aimed at Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly due to his convictions for IRA activity. Curious, because Mr Hutchinson received a life sentence for his part in the UVF double murder of two Catholic workmen in 1974.

As Alliance leader Naomi Long put in a tweet: “That can’t be Jim Allister with Billy Hutchinson after all his pontificating about former terrorists last week, can it?? So, let’s see: not okay to serve on boards, but fine with Cllrs and sharing joint platforms. Before you @ me, I’ve no issue with Hutchinson”.

The Assembly chamber was the scene of heated exchanges between the SDLP’s Pat Catney and Health Minister Robin Swann, over a statement Mr Swann released in which he said parties advocating a vaccine passport scheme had, until recent days, “shown no actual interest” in the issue. One of those parties was the SDLP.

“I have to say that I was extremely disappointed by the statement issued in your name today which appears to me to question the sincerity of my party on this issue and you may want to take this opportunity to reconsider your comments,” Mr Catney said. “In response to a written question on July 5, the minister said his department estimated £10.5m was needed for, amongst other things, features to support an Executive policy on domestic use of the Covid passport. Can you provide an update on the work that has taken place over the last three months?”

Mr Swann replied: “I am not sure where his anger comes from, but I will say, when I saw some commentary last night it reminded me of a line from a poem.

“‘Yesterday, upon a stair, I met a man who wasn’t there’.”

Deputy speaker Roy Beggs had to intervene several times before things calmed down.


Rising fuel prices were on the agenda, following chaotic scenes at the pumps across the water, however Northern Ireland was seemingly unaffected. Why might this be? Well, according to John Martin of the Road Haulage Association, it has something to do with the “Northern Irish psyche” that is allowing the region to escape the panic buying seen elsewhere in the UK.

When asked by the News Letter about the disparity, Mr Martin said: : “It’s maybe the Northern Irish psyche – we’re just slightly more laid back… I don’t think there’s any other explanation.

“There is no shortage of fuel in GB – just there was a shortage of drivers. I think there was an issue in relation to a small number of filling stations.

“That was picked up by the press and the public just went mad in buying more fuel than was needed, exacerbating the whole situation.”

Wednesday also saw the announcement of long-awaited reforms of our archaic licensing laws, with venues now able to stay open later and rules relaxed over the Easter period. Cheers to that – it only took us 25 years to catch up with the rest of the UK.

Speaking of the rest of the UK, during the Labour Party conference in England, party leader Sir Keir Starmer had some choice words for the difference between him and PM Boris Johnson.

“I’ve spent my entire working life trying to get justice done,” Mr Starmer told delegates.

“In 2003, when I was working with the Policing Board of Northern Ireland, while I was learning up close how hard it is to make split-second life-and-death decisions in a riot. As I worked with the police to create a lasting institution in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement.

“Boris Johnson was a guest on Top Gear where, in reference to himself, he said to Jeremy Clarkson: ‘you can’t rule out the possibility that beneath the elaborately constructed veneer of a blithering idiot, lurks a blithering idiot’.”


Thursday was a big day for the DUP, with its 50th birthday celebrations set for that evening at a Belfast hotel. One person who decided to turn down the invitation was former party leader Arlene Foster.

Asked about the news Mrs Foster will not be attending the event, also-former-leader (albeit for three weeks), Edwin Poots did not seem too bothered.

“It is entirely up to every individual as to what they choose to do. I’ll be there and I’m certainly going to enjoy a celebration with very many good friends that I have built up over many years,” he said. Was that a slight dig at the end?

Thursday morning also saw an interesting comment from the Health Minister at the Health committee. UUP MLA Alan Chambers spoke about the Covid vaccine, saying: “Anybody has the right not to take the vaccine… I have no difficulty with that.”

He added: “I can’t understand why so many people feel the need to actively campaign against vaccination.”

Mr Swann responded: “What concerns me is not just the level of opposition but it’s also the level of threat of violence that is actually being insinuated and targeted against a number of people both working in the health department and the vaccination programme.”

“We’re now seeing a different level of antagonism.”

The Health Minister should know, he was speaking after the police told him to review his security arrangements due to threats from anti-vaxxers.


Friday is generally subdued in terms of politics in Northern Ireland, with the Assembly not sitting, however a decision by the Parades Commission to ban a district centenary parade from entering the Kilcoole area irked many unionists. None more so than the TUV, with party secretary Ron McDowell saying: “The Parades Commission have only ever served to be a tool utilised by republicans and there can be no place for the Commission in a Northern Ireland representative of all our citizens.

“It therefore comes as no surprise to hear this decision being welcomed by Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein and Nichola Mallon of the SDLP. I am happy to go on record and state that the removal of the Parades Commission is a personal goal of mine going forward.”

He urged everyone to protest “against this ludicrous decision peacefully.”

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