Hain putting NI on a fast track?

Quite a few years ago, I remember chatting to a British official who was clearly frustrated with Northern Ireland’s politician’s general incapacity/unwillingness to think creatively about the future. He refered to a little bag of containing Northern Ireland’s dirty secret: ie the size of the annual subvention from HM’s Exchequer. For the most part, S of S Murphy’s ‘administration’ played it softly softly. As Brian Feeney points out, that is not Mr Hain’s style. He draws heavily from a New Statesman piece that goes into detail on Hain’s further ambition at Westminster. It also deals with what he’s done in the last nine months:

…Hain has abolished the eleven-plus, introduced Brownite schemes such as the Sure Start programme and dawn-to-dusk schooling, and brought in private health companies to reduce waiting lists for routine operations. He has also slashed the number of quangos from more than 70 to 42 and replaced Northern Ireland’s 19 health trusts and five education authorities with one body looking after health and social services and another with responsibility for education. At the same time, Northern Ireland’s traditionally toothless local councils will be given new powers over planning decisions and regeneration.

In his zeal for change, Hain has made himself unpopular by raising local rates by nearly 20 per cent to bring them in line with the rest of the UK, and by introducing water charges. Exemptions for the poorest house-holds are designed to soften the blow, and Hain insists that the millions raised will go straight into health, education and new sustainable-energy projects. “When you look at what I’ve done here, you see a consistent theme of reforms which is not driven by any dogma from across the water, but a radical agenda to make sure Northern Ireland’s people enjoy equal opportunities, driven by the values of social justice.”

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty