Archive for August 18th, 2009

Is Nelson McCausland the Minister for Culture Arts and Leisure?

I mean, I’m only asking.

Because, this morning, on Good Morning Ulster he corrected Seamus McKee for making that assumption.

He said that when he was protesting against GAA clubs being used for Hunger Strike commemorations, he was speaking in a personal capacity. Which means what? That he is now two people, or at least two people.

Maybe on other occasions he speaks as a representative of the Orange Order or a member of a church, and are we to allow him the conceit that all these people, all called Nelson McCausland have different opinions about things; that they aren’t to be taken as committing each other when they make bald statements?

Then, in reply, comes Barry McIlduff, speaking in a personal capacity too.

He is chair of the Culture Arts and Leisure Committee which monitors Minister McCausland’s department and calls it to account. He wanted to say that he was speaking only as a member of Sinn Fein, and not as a member of the committee. So he is at least two people too.

And maybe when he goes home at the end of the day he is someone else entirely again, not even a republican for all we know.

Which is all too handy.

It means that the business of the elected assembly – elected that is, by you and me, in our capacity as voters – is shielded from us, by those we have elected into office, telling us that they wish to disregard their responsibilities for a moment and speak outside the roles we have given them.

It’s as if you had brought someone into service your boiler and asked them if it needed replaced yet and they said: well, speaking in a personal capacity, I think this will last you another ten years, but speaking in a professional capacity I like to recommend our new model.

The personal capacity allows people to speak a little more informally – perhaps even a little more honestly – but it also preserves the official capacity against the question that might force it to loosen up and be more honest too.

And anyway, it doesn’t make any sense.

It is the whole Nelson McCausland who is Culture Minister.

Does he really expect us to imagine that he leaves part of himself outside the office when he is at work?

We expect him to separate office from party to this extent, that when he is promoting Culture Arts and Leisure, he is doing it for the whole community. Edwin Poots, in that role, for instance, once said that he personally opposed Gay Pride but that as Minister he would fund it. That’s a separation of opinion and responsibility. But I would have no problem with him saying: I am the Minister and I don’t like Gay Pride.

It was the simple truth and everyone understood.

You might even respect him more for doing with dignity and candour the parts of his job he found unpalatable.

You can talk to a man like that.

But when a minister, or a policing board official or a leader of business or a broadcaster insists on separating the personal from the political, their real selves from their working selves, they are always doing it for only one reason, to stop you asking questions about how they do their job and how they bring their personal experiences and opinions to that job.

I don’t think we should be stopped from asking those questions. I think they are the most important questions of all, speaking personally, that is, which is the only way I do speak.

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