Tag: Northern Ireland Executive

‘big picture’ and politicking

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.

Not only does this appear to go against the greater collective responsibility that was to underpin the new Executive post New Decade New Approach, but the greatest critic of the change was one of the DUP’s more important internal advisers 2008-2017, explained in a Twitter thread:

— Richard Bullick (@RichardBullick1) July 15, 2020

On the latest episode of PoliticalOD we talk about this, and why this is being raised now while the new Executive is still trying to find its feet.

One of the thoughts explored is that it might make sense if the Ministers were to deal with the day to day and that might leave the Executive with the job to deal with the difficult strategic issues. On that point we talked in the previous thedissenter post on the failure to address fundamental strategic infrastructure that has placed a dampener on any prospect of significant future economic development – a electricity supply that is ‘insecure’ and a waste water treatment infrastructure that is at or near capacity.

The first issue on electricity supply doesn’t even get a mention in the New Decade New Approach document, and waste water gets at least a passing reference with:

The Executive will invest urgently in wastewater infrastructure which is at or nearing capacity in many places across Northern Ireland, including in Belfast, limiting growth.

That is at least one sentence more than appeared in the Programme for Government in 2016. However, fine words, though perhaps less fine if we recall that the New Decade New Approach document turns out not to have been costed or agreed with any commitment to funding from the British Government or any idea of how to finance the commitments as outlined.

For a change we finish the podcast talking about Russia, why the recent report doesn’t add much to the sum of human knowledge, and that for all the efforts in which the Russian State is said to have been engaged it seems to have delivered the sum total of diddly squat by way of improving Russian influence on UK public policy. Fact is Governments (China, Saudi Arabia, any Government including Germany and France) will have institutes, friendship organisations and business associations that could all be assigned with the notion that they are acting in State interests.

Some clearly are, but great care needs to be taken to distinguish the malign from the benign. That is what the UK Government needs to be doing. The Intelligence Committee report suggests it needs to be more pro-active in understanding what is happening close to home.


Promises, promises.

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.


Health status, Executive stasis, and Boris’s strategic manoeuvres on Brexit.

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.