Yes to infrastructure, but foundations first before grand schemes…
In recent days the News Letter has picked up on a small piece of legislation being rushed through the Northern Ireland Assembly. The bit that has peaked interest is what seems a modest change that will have the effect of placing more power in the hands of Ministers to take action unilaterally, without reference to the Executive.
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What is new on the Hill? Press photo opportunities are back for the members of the Northern Ireland Executive, MLAs return to full pay, and things go back to normal on the Hill; whatever normal is?.
The document released to the media preceding statements by the five largest Parties that they were all intending to nominate someone for the Executive ‘team’ was greeted mostly with, “about time’.
That document, however, seemed to fade into the background as the whole process of setting up the Executive and MLAs getting allocated roles became the focus of attention.
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Despite many ‘Reports’ on Health reform (2011, 2014, 2016) Northern Ireland has seen little critical or cultural change in frontline delivery of services. While the easy option for politicians is to demand and even offer more money, the current situation has arisen because of budgetary decisions taken in 2014. If it was pay or XX in 2014 it will still be pay or XX in 2019. Though our politicians are reluctant to talk about XX.
While it might seen that a new Executive is a possibility in the New Year, there doesn’t appear to be any public confidence that an Executive would have the will (or ability) to undertake difficult decisions that will be required on Health, or any of the other issues piled up on Ministerial in-trays. Last time there were major and difficult decisions to be made, Sinn Fein insisted they be sent back to Westminster.
It is Welfare Reform and the consequential impact on welfare recipients that might mean Sinn Fein needs an Assembly far more than any other Party. Yet despite the pressures on Sinn Fein there is a worrying trend in Stormont “negotiations” that enough is agreed to keep the show on the road while setting the path for the next crisis. Everyone does everything to keep Sinn Fein on board, while it does everything it can to wreck the train.
Finally, Boris’s plans for trade arrangements between GB and NI are an enigma – somewhere between what people read in the Withdrawal Agreement pages and believe to be likely, and then Boris’s view that that is all tosh. No idea, and all to some extent subject to what is decided between now and probably July in respect of a trade agreement between the UK and EU. With NI inside the UK customs union (the major difference between backstop and frontstop) there has been a shift in the dynamic of negotiation that isn’t much discussed.
All this in a handy 20 minutes or so, on this latest PoliticalOD podcast.
Back in the New Year. Have a great break. Merry Christmas.