Bradley criticised over troop prosecutions and MLA pay
Two bad stories for the Karen Bradley this week, neither of them related to the ongoing stalemate over re-establishing the devolved institutions.
First, she has clashed with Gavin Williamson over a backbench bill tabled by Richard Benyon to offer an amnesty to British troops who served in Ulster during the Troubles. The Northern Irish Secretary argued that she had been advised that it would breach human rights law, or mean offering an amnesty to terrorists.
However the so-called legacy inquiries have come under mounting criticism for disproportionately focusing their attention on members of the security forces – and this tough line seems hypocritical in the face of the ‘amnesty letters’ scandal. Benyon has called the process ‘disgraceful’, and writing in the Daily Express Leo Docherty, himself a former soldier, has demanded an end to the “legal assault” on ex-servicemen.
Second, the News Letter reports that Bradley has “declined to explain” why she has failed to make any progress in cutting pay for members of Northern Ireland’s defunct Assembly.
These cuts were proposed in a report from her own department last December, but despite saying she is “still minded” to pursue the idea nothing has been done to date. Despite spending just 46 minutes in the Chamber since the last Ulster election 15 months ago, every MLA has been paid at least £49,500.
Unfortunately, it looks as if Bradley may be making the same mistake that James Brokenshire did: dithering to such an extent that the local parties don’t find the threat of action from the NIO credible.
Elsewhere, the Belfast Telegraph reports that Lord Empey, the former leader of the Ulster Unionists, has met with Boris Johnson to discuss how the Government can better support the victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA attacks and Lord Ashcroft’s latest polling revealed how un-invested many mainland voters are in Northern Ireland (an issue I tackled on Twitter).
Inquiry into Jones will be held in private
The independent inquiry into how Carwyn Jones, the outgoing First Minister of Wales, handled the sacking of Carl Sargeant will be held in private, according to Wales Online, and not report until later this year. As a result, Jones may well have left office before the findings are made public.
Andrew RT Davies, the Welsh Conservative leader, has also raised doubts about the inquiry’s independence after an email was circulated asking Assembly staff with evidence for it to contact civil servants, rather than the inquiry directly.
Sargeant is believed to have taken his own life after being sacked from the Welsh Government over allegations of sexual misconduct, which were not explained to him. The First Minister has come under scrutiny both for his handling of Sargeant’s dismissal and over allegations of a broader culture of bullying in his office.
Foster to break new ground by attending LGBT event
Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, is to attend an event recognising Northern Ireland’s LGBT community in what the i calls “a series of apparently choreographed moves to soften her image”.
This marks a sharp break from the former First Minister’s predecessors as DUP leader, both of whom campaign against the legalisation of homosexuality in the Province during the 1970s and 1980s.
However, Foster reportedly made it clear that the move is not a precursor to the Party dropping its long-standing opposition to the introduction of gay marriage in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, delegates at Sinn Fein’s conference voted to support liberalising Ulster’s abortion law after the successful campaign in the Republic to repeal the 8th Amendment of the Constitution, which largely prohibited it.
Three Plaid AMs call for challenge to Wood
Three nationalist members of the Welsh Assembly have circulated an email to colleagues urging a leadership challenge against Leanne Wood, Wales Online reports.
Last week Wood, who has lead Plaid Cymru since 2012, announced that she would step down as leader if her party didn’t ‘win’ the next Welsh elections and make her First Minister. Given that her own very left-wing politics likely preclude the deal with the Tories that would probably require, it effectively set her departure for 2021.
But this doesn’t seem to have stopped some AMs moving for a ballot – Wood has resubmitted her own nomination papers, and any challenger apparently has until July 4 to step forward under Plaid’s rules. Other sections of the party, such as its 36 councillors in Carmarthenshire, have also supported a challenge.
Wood’s critics say that she hasn’t taken the party forward during her time as leader, likely contrasting Plaid’s “flat-lining” with the SNP’s breakthrough in Scotland.