With Tynwald in recess for the summer, PAUL SPELLER reflects on the first parliamentary year of the Quayle administration. Here he takes a look at how members have handled an issue that could end up dominating for a long time yet.
The biggest challenge Howard Quayle will face as chief minister may not be the one he was expecting.
On an international scale, the spectre of Brexit may continue to loom large - too large in the mind of the Manx Government, some critics have argued.
But, the future of sea services to the Isle of Man has the potential to overshadow everything else.
The Steam Packet issue is a tricky one - and one that, unfortunately, Tynwald members appear to be reluctant to discuss publicly.
It must have been one hell of a briefing that was given to Tynwald members by the government ahead of what was meant to be a debate on what to do with the offer from the Steam Packet, for them to decide that it was not worthy of proper discussion.
A glance at the Hansard report of proceedings certainly seems to suggest that even President of Tynwald Steve Rodan was caught off-guard when members called for a vote on the motion before them.
Six minutes and 20 seconds was the time members spent on what to do about the Steam Packet’s offer in exchange for a new agreement.
They took longer discussing where the swearing-in ceremony for the Lieutenant Governor should take place.
This lack of open political discussion is perhaps even more surprising when you consider the Council of Ministers wanted to reject the Steam Packet’s ’final’ offer of a deal that would have secured sea services beyond 2040 in exchange for a number of pledges on new vessels and services, while the Department of Infrastructure’s recommendation - the one that was put before Tynwald - was to allow it to continue negotiations.
In previous administrations, the suggestion of a less than unified approach within the cabinet would have come under much closer scrutiny, even if ministers were sticking rigidly to a party line when the matter was raised.
Commercial sensitivity is a handy cop-out to call on to avoid discussing the matter in public, but one cannot help but feel that members of the public are either being cheated or taken for granted to not be considered deserving of being privy to what is going on in the minds of our parliamentary representatives, both inside the government and in the wings.
Yes, the motion was to support the Department of Infrastructure in continuing negotiations, which was the argument proffered for not talking about it further, but, do we actually know, genuinely, what the thoughts of members are?
It would be nice to think that, if they are contemplating something as far-reaching as taking ownership of ferries and franchising out their operation, for instance, that, somewhere down the line they would consider letting the public in on that train of thought before the process hurtles down the track and the spending of £150 million is announced and approved before the public can say ’shipping forecast’.
If they consider the Steam Packet gets a lot of criticism now, and that has emboldened some members to take a hard-line stance, Tynwald and government should have a long think about what level of scrutiny they would come under if they were to own the vehicles that provided the lifeline sea link to the Isle of Man.
Oh, and good luck, telling anyone - ever again - that there is not enough money available for a minor scheme that is close to the heart of a section of the community.
Of course, some of the above is conjecture, because the members conveniently decided not to discuss it.
Sometimes, you get the impression that, if they could get away with it, Tynwald members would quite like to hold some debates behind closed doors.
It’s all the more disappointing when many seem happy enough to dance many, merry circles about several aspects of parliamentary reform, or the procedural niceties of where the Queen’s representative puts on his or her hat, yet they fall shy of talking about the Steam Packet.
Stop people in the street and ask them if they care more about what their MHK plans to do about the island’s sea links, or whether the Bishop continues to have a vote in Legislative Council.
The reticence to talk publicly suggests that there may already be a preferred option from the suggested alternatives in the report that was barely debated.
But, if Tynwald and the government thinking the Steam Packet will not be - quite rightly -assessing every possible option that Tynwald could come up with, they are naÃ¯ve in the extreme.
By not talking publicly, it cannot help to fuel suspicion that the corridors of power are full of shadowy corners.
It may not be regarded as particularly conciliatory towards the Steam Packet, either.
Political posturing is all well and good, but it does not carry you across the Irish Sea.
â?¢ See next week’s Examiner for Paul’s one-year review of the House of Keys.