“this time really is different”

Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, is waving his big stick, again, in the Guardian today, ending with the familiar, by now, line – “If locally elected politicians don’t like all this, the solution lies in their hands: taking their places at Stormont and, for the first time in over three years, earning their salaries by exercising self-government.” [Also available on the Guardian’s Commentisfree blog – Ed]

Some will say with misplaced confidence that we have been here before, that in Northern Ireland the “crunch” always recedes and the moment of truth never happens. But this time really is different. If political agreement to work together cannot be reached by November at the very latest, elections for a new assembly due in May 2007 will be cancelled. It would be ludicrous to again elect politicians who won’t do their jobs to an assembly that doesn’t exist.

Members of the assembly now being paid salaries and allowances – amounting to £85,000 per year – will lose them, with consequences both for them and the staff they employ. Northern Ireland will just have to leave them behind. For whatever the tangled history and bitterness, the island of Ireland faces the urgent common challenge of global competition. It faces common problems over energy security. As terrorism and violence has ended and society normalised, common problems such as crime and skills shortages have loomed.

So, if local politicians will not do their jobs, British direct-rule ministers will work with our counterparts in Dublin on commonsense north-south partnerships: practical cooperation on policing, tackling child offenders, establishing a single energy market and a common mobile-phone tariff. I and my ministerial team will drive forward reforms to abolish the 11-plus and open up educational opportunity to all. We will cut the number of local councils from 26 to seven, and public bodies from 154 to 75. We will introduce water charges and raise household rates to British levels (they currently average less than half).

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  • Yokel

    Aye Peter, enjoy the power while you got it.

  • TOT

    so there we have the 30 yrs of violence is all about a common mobile phone tariff

  • Yokel

    Heh heh, Hain, a man with his finger on the pulse..It’s the way he boasts about the water charges and rates. Whilst it has to be done Peter, its not something to boast about….tool

  • Crataegus

    “Members of the assembly now being paid salaries and allowances – amounting to £85,000 per year – will lose them,”

    Peter stop making threats, don’t wait till November just do it today. Stop rewarding failure.

    As for running this place jointly, best of luck. You Rooker and Co will probably make a pigs ear of it, but come the next general election bye!

  • Taxpayer

    Yokel, Hain is right to boast because he is telling the British public that this uppity lot in NI will have to start paying their way if they want high public spending.

    They have the power to avoid such increases by persuading their local politicians to take some responsibility for their electorates and defend their decisions on tax and spend. No influence on VAT or Corp tax etc but they don’t seem to want the powers they do have.

  • Crataegus

    Taxpayer

    Perhaps he is going at it the wrong way round. If they impose water charges etc our local lot will simply blame them as will the electorate. No damage done to corporate SF, DUP, UUP or SDLP.

    I would think that a better tack would be to reduce government expenditure and employment to that of a comparable region in Britain coupled with an offer of tax raising powers and some sort of matching funding. That way there would be real pain but among many of those who vote but Hain could then say look the mechanisms are there for improvement it is up to your local politicians. His current approach is being too proactive. Don’t touch local councils etc just let the lot wallow and reduce the overall budget so that local people have to close local services and make local redundancies.

    I can’t see how what he is doing now is going to work, and the costs are going to fall hard on the likes of the elderly and the business community. Seems a bit sick to use pensioners as a scapegoat and perverse to knobble business.

    Just a thought.

  • Yokel

    Taxpayer

    Success or not these measures are simply bringing the place in line with elsewhere they should be done whatever.

    While they can be used as one lever, fact that he may be playing to a UK audience saying that its a way of telling the uppity lot over there to sort it out shows how unbelievably stupid he is and how stupid his audience is. In itself it will change precisely NOTHING. To quote many a loyalist gable wall (though for a different purpose) Mr Hain this isn’t about money.

    Hain is a goner and his party is goner anyway in a few years, the Tories just have to be average to win.

  • English

    The sad thing is that Mr Hain and his ministers are slashing spending and with it public services, and because of the blinkered views of politicians they aren’t doing anything about it. Is he not justified in waving his ‘big stick’? The politicians are paid handsomely for sitting on their hands. Mr Hain is clearly enjoying his job and plans to make real changes with or without the consent of locally elected politicians. He is the winner, and what he has done will stand him in good stead to become deputy labour leader. People are also sick to death of subsidising Northern Ireland in England, especially as we get zero benefit fom it only grief! Well said Hain!