Sometimes the Stormont foreground is so crisis-ridden, we forget the important background work. That’s where the calm everyday business of government goes on, where the machinery is kept cranking by nameless people. Well, except your name is Mary McArdle or Paul Kavanagh. If that's your name you lose your job.
Their mistake, you see, was they belonged to the wrong party. If they’d belonged to, say, the UUP or the Alliance Party or DUP, they’d have been OK. In fact, there’s a reasonable chance they’d not only have had a job, they’d have been related to the person who gave them the job.
Some figures. Of SDLP MLAs, some 21% employ relatives. The UUP beat that - 23% of them keep it in the family. Alliance notches 25%, and one-man-band Jim Allister employs his daughter. But the DUP make them all look like amateurs. Of their 38 MLAs, 33 employ relatives. That’s 61%. All working away, bringing home an honest crust to feed the family.
Take the DUP MLA Robin Newton, now. He told the Nolan Show he hadn’t interviewed his wife for her job as his office manager because she was well-qualified anyway. “My wife’s previous experience and whole career has been based on working as a personal assistant to someone at a fairly senior level in commerce and the running of a small office. Carol and I have worked together and it seemed to be a natural progression”. His wife and son between them brought home over £60,000. Oh, and his daughter got nearly £14,000 for doing some, um, research and secretarial work over an 18-month period. Nice work, as the old song said, if you can get it.
It’s becoming a bit like the house of Windsor, up in Stormont. If you’ve got the royal blood coursing through your veins, the job’s yours and the public money that goes with it. Interviews? Open competition? Testing the ability of one applicant against another? Sure what would you bother with that carry-on for. And don’t say it’s illegal because it isn’t.
But hold. There may yet be changes. Pat McCartan, chair of the Independent Financial Review panel, says one option that might be considered would be ensuring that there is open competition for any jobs. One option. Might be considered. Don’t you go giving yourself a hernia there, Pat, rushing at it. Sure who’s better equipped to put their snout in the public trough than an MLA’s own family?
By the way, did you know that George Harrison's mother came up with that final line of the Piggies song: "What they need's a damn good whacking"? Don't know what put that in my head.