Island Plan debate underway amid calls for gov to give more detail

Debate on the Island Plan is underway after Tynwald agreed this morning to let it go ahead.

Chief Minister Alfred Cannan obtained the consent of Tynwald to allow a debate on the Island Plan ahead of normal schedules, despite backbenchers hitting out at the ‘rush’ and expressing concern at preventing full public scrutiny of the final document.

It’s fair to say his speech to Tynwald this morning was received more warmly than the Island Plan document itself, which was repeatedly criticised for lacking detail and substance – and even mocked for its language.

Mr Cannan told members: ‘Now is the time to respond to and focus on the critical issues that really matter.’

He pointed to the creation of a new housing and communities board as illustrative of a government that was about action.

The plan would create a foundation for a ‘better and stronger’ island, he said.

He outlined the commitments to improve the health care system and address issues in mental health, sort out a cumbersome planning system, support and improve education, including lifelong learning and support actions to mitigate climate change.

Mr Cannan hit out at ‘unelected destabilisers’ from outside of parliament who ‘seek to undermine’ the work of Tynwald and insisted the plan had been consulted on adequately and feedback listened to.

But the first speakers to follow him expressed concern at the rush to debate a document that has been in the public arena for only half the normal time required before a vote is taken.

Initially Comin wanted a debate four days after the Island Plan’s publication and, when that was rejected by Tynwald last month, they added it to today’s special sitting, which was arranged originally to rubber-stamp Covid regs.

Under the usual procedures a document should go on the Tynwald register of business six weeks before a debate, which allows greater time for public scrutiny ahead of any vote.

Arbory, Castletown and Malew MHK Tim Glover was scathing of the speedy approach taken and took a swipe at members who failed to recognise concern that the normal process had been sidestepped to take an early debate and the implications for transparency.

‘Some members don’t see this as an issue any more now that they have their feet firmly under the Council of Ministers table,’ he said. 

The public had only had 18 days to consider the document, instead of 42, he argued. He added he ‘didn’t recognise’ the draft of the Island Plan members were shown in January from what had been discussed prior to then.

Manx Labour and Douglas East MHK Joney Faragher echoed his concerns and said there had been a ‘clear message people wanted more time to scrutinise this document’. She asked: ‘Why the rush?’

She has placed an amendment to the original motion to approve the report, which would require the gov to publish the full terms of reference and membership of an Island Plan Delivery Board that was promised by Mr Cannan.

Meanwhile Jason Moorhouse – Mr Glover’s constituency colleague – praised the ‘passion’ in Mr Cannan’s speech, which added more depth to what was in the plan itself. But he went on to mock the language used in the ‘dull’ document.

Quoting lines from the plan, he said people reading it would be ‘buzz-worded out’ and there was no substance behind the phrases used.

‘If this is the grand plan we really need to get the detail.’

Meanwhile, veteran MLC Bill Henderson described the speech as one of the best he had heard.

The debate continues this afternoon. So far none of the other ministers has spoken. Assuming they plan to, we can expect more support and potentially elaboration on the visions in the doc.

It looks likely that, despite some misgivings about content and handling, the Island Plan itself will be approved. We’ll report more later.

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