Northern Ireland

Stormont end of term report: some good points but must try harder

School's out - and Stormont's heading for summer recess too. So how does the Executive report card look? Our political correspondent Martina Purdy has been speaking two commentators to hear their assessment of who gets a gold star and who needs to go to do lines...

Image caption The first and deputy first ministers get marks for gestures of cross-community solidarity

It's been a year since our MLAs took their seats for the first day of this new term - dealing with issues such as finance, the arts and social welfare. At the front of the class, so to speak, are the ministers - so how did they perform?

Journalist Finola Meredith thinks the finance minister should be awarded a gold star.

"Sammy Wilson deserves a bit of a mention. I don't always agree with everything that he says but I get a feeling of competence from him that I don't always get from other ministers. He does seem to know what he's talking about."

Steven McCaffery, deputy Ireland editor of Press Association, concluded there had not been a large number of "stand-out performances."

He suggested David Ford, the justice minister, for a gold star over his handling of a challenging brief in difficult circumstances.

"He's managed to tackle some very hefty policy issues. He faces the gargantuan task of reforming the prison service. He's got the ball rolling there."

Mr Ford also won extra marks for facing down barristers over the cost of legal aid.

"He's also got some credit for his victory in the staring contest he launched with the Bar library," Mr McCafferty added.

Although involved in controversy over the issue of hydraulic drilling or fracking in her constituency, Arlene Foster earned credit for a successful launch of the Titanic project.

But the environment minister Alex Attwood was marked down over heritage issues, even though he did chair a heritage summit in his first year.

"Very disappointed with his decision to demolish the Athletic Stores building in Belfast city centre," said Ms Meredith.

"Wonderful old building part of a conservation area. There were other suggestions of things that could have been done with that building to at least save the exterior."

The roads minister Danny Kennedy was also criticised for seeking to increase parking charges, including a 50% hike in fines for illegal parking.

Mr McCaffery said there was a feeling that the minister's budget had been gobbled up by big projects early on and that had made it harder for him.

While the health minister Edwin Poots won praise for trying to tackle health reform, he lost credit over his ban on gay men and others giving blood.

"The science does not stack up," said Ms Meredith. "I think he's a wee bit mixed up on that. So I think he needs to write out some items from his science jotter just to get his head around it all."

Mr McCaffery agreed: "I think he's ending the year with a definite cloud over his term in office."

The culture minister Caral Ní Chuilin was considered most improved after an early row over her choice of special advisor, Mary McArdle, who had been involved in the murder of a judge and his daughter as they left Mass in 1984.

Mr McCaffery gave her extra marks for her approach on the Irish language by successfully launching the cross-community Líofa project and for other ventures.

"I mean as a republican minister she has totally embraced the local links to the 2012 Olympics and she's obviously playing a key role as well in trying to promote the Derry/Londonderry City of Culture venture."

So what about the First and Deputy First Ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, now in their second term as a coupling?

While there has been no breakthrough on a community relations strategy, the ministers were praised for their gestures in attending GAA and football matches together in a show of cross-community solidarity.

There was also credit for trade missions to India and the Middle East.

"At least they are doing the right thing. It might feel a bit clunky at times but it just about works."

There was a pass for the Executive as a whole, but it must do more to bring forward new laws when Stormont resumes in the autumn.