Bradley ‘wanted civil servants to act as ministers’

The Northern Irish Secretary has been accused of wanting to empower civil servants to take political decisions which are usually the preserve of ministers, according to the News Letter.

It reports that Karen Bradley “expressed disappointment” when three Belfast judges ruled against an emerging pattern of civil servants, who are neither elected nor currently subject to political oversight, were taking sometimes controversial decisions about spending hundreds of millions of pounds of public money.

In fact, the Secretary of State reportedly suggested to the House of Commons that she is involved in discussions about whether to appeal to the ruling to the Supreme Court – despite not being a party to the case and, having refused to implement direct rule, having no jurisdiction over Northern Irish officials.

This move is merely the latest indication of how far the Government is prepared to stoop in order to avoid taking responsibility for the governance of Ulster at this sensitive stage of the Brexit negotiations. Absent direct rule or a devolved assembly the Province has been administered by a civil service on auto-pilot for over a year – a situation which is proving as practically unsustainable as it is democratically deficient.

One sign that ministers might finally be preparing to implement direct rule is yesterday’s reports that the Northern Irish Office is holding a recruitment drive – although two sources in the Stormont civil service played down suggestions that this was the case.

Front-runner for next Welsh First Minister ‘hints at higher taxes’

Mark Drakeford, the AM widely tipped as the favourite to replace Carwyn Jones as Labour leader and First Minister of Wales, has floated the idea of increasing income tax to pay for social care, according to Wales Online.

As Finance Minister, he suggested that it might be preferable to creating a new ‘social care levy’ at a meeting of AMs. The Welsh Government will be able to levy its own taxes from April 2019.

Last week two Welsh Cabinet ministers backed Drakeford for the top job when Jones steps down in the autumn. However this week several local government leaders endorsed Vaughan Gething, who would be the “first black head of a UK nation”, whilst another council leader came out for Eluned Morgan on the grounds that Welsh Labour need a female leader.

All four of the official Assembly parties are currently facing leadership ructions (the Lib Dems, having just one AM, don’t count). Leanne Wood gave an interview to Wales Online on why she should still lead Plaid Cymru. Meanwhile David Williamson, its political editor, posed the pertinent question of whether devolution has simply swapped Westminster hegemony for ‘Cardiff rule’.

MoD considers amnesty for soldiers who served in Ulster

The Times reports that Gavin Williamson has announced that the Ministry of Defence is considering proposals to protect ex-servicemen from prosecutions relating to long-past events.

Models under consideration appear to include a statute of limitations and an amnesty. Late last week the Defence Secretary was accused of ‘secretly backing’ a proposal to include ‘IRA killers’ in the amnesty proposal, as reported in the Daily Mail.

The treatment of ex-servicemen has come under mounting scrutiny in the aftermath of repeated suits against veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by so-called ‘tank-chaser’ lawyers. The particular controversy over Ulster was heightened by the ‘comfort letters’ scandal, in which the prosecution of the Hyde Park bomber collapsed because of what appeared to have been a secret, de facto amnesty granted to IRA ‘on-the-runs’ by the Northern Irish Office.

Violence returned to Northern Ireland this week. There were fire crews attacked and vehicles burned out last night ahead of today’s Twelfth of July celebrations, and over 30 petrol bombs were thrown at police during disorder in Londonderry on Saturday night. This comes after a string of attacks on the city’s isolated Protestant community in the Fountain neighbourhood.

SNP criticise plans to put Cross of St George on Big Ben

Scottish Nationalist MPs have criticised proposals to prominently display the English cross on the clock face of St Stephen’s Tower during the current restoration works.

According to the Scotsman they have described the decision as a “welcome boost to Scottish independence”. However, other MPs have countered that the rest of the Home Nations will be represented by floral emblems elsewhere in the design.

These designs were apparently a feature of the original Victorian clock face, but were obscured by soot and smog and then left unrestored during previous renovations.