Don’t talk to us about the national question….

Fran Yeoman of the Times reckons that now the constitutional question has been parked voters turnout is more likely to be motivated by issues of tax than of cultural and national identity.

There is a new spate of grafitti in Belfast. The slogan makes no mention of Bloody Sunday or saving the Union, but espouses instead one of the few causes that loyalist and nationalist areas have in common. It says: “No water tax.”

If Tony Blair secures his legacy in Northern Ireland, with a successful power-sharing assembly resulting from the election due on March 27, it might just be because its people have agreed on one thing: paying for water in a land that has so much rain is an unappealing prospect.

The revaluation of property, a dummy run for the rest of Britain, has led in the past year to a sharp rise in domestic rates, the equivalent of council tax. Stringent new planning laws have provoked anger in rural areas, and educational reform has started and then been paralysed by the peace process, leaving many children uncertain about school places. All of these policies were recently introduced by ministers who have governed from London since the assembly was suspended in 2002. The Northern Ireland Office, say politicians of assorted hues, is determined to annoy people in the Province into working together.

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  • Direct rule is the price of the Union.

    Devolution will be a hard pill for some in the Unionist community to swallow,but at least they will have some say over their local affairs.

    I doubt there will be a re-run of the ODR riots,but people in NI do have, at times, common interests.

    NIO ministers cannot be held to account for their local decisions eg Water Charges.

    The behaviour of NIO ministers could be described as colonial-although Unionists would be offended by such a description as NI is an integral part of the UK.

    However there is a sort of West Lothian question operating in NI apropos a democratic deficit.

  • Crataegus

    The constitutional Parked? I just don’t see it in this election. Hopefully I am wrong. However I think that this election may prove the turning point and the next election could well be a very different matter.

    Results like Alliance holding its seats and taking South Belfast or Greens taking a seat in N Down or doing well in South Down would be an indication. Also of interest will be the Conservative and Labour votes. The question is will the utterly brassed off decide to turn out to vote.

  • jamestwo

    fantasy island!!! constitutional issue parked my backside. i will give you a prediction now for march 7. unionists 57, nationalists 45 , alliance 6. 2003 result unionists 59 , nationalists 42 , alliance and other guy in w. tyrone 7. the only difference is the demographic timebomb ticking away as usual and old prods dying at a faster rate than rcs and new young catholic voters voting with the tribe. probably sf as the sdlp are seen as old fogeys. it may be sad but saying the old way has gone away doesnt make it so.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Fran Yeoman of the Times reckons that now the constitutional question has been parked voters turnout is more likely to be motivated by issues of tax than of cultural and national identity.

    The electorate aren’t stupid. They know that :

    – the local parties all voted for the changes in rating, and were bullied into doing so by HM Treasury. They have no balls;
    – the local parties are all running on a “cut domestic rates and stop water tax” platform
    – the local parties are also all running on a “cut corporation tax” platform.
    – they’re powerless to do anything about it no matter what way they vote.

    Taxation isn’t going to effect this election. However if powersharing really gets moving and domestic matters come to the fore, it might effect the next one.

    Phil :

    NIO ministers cannot be held to account for their local decisions eg Water Charges.

    It does not matter whether they are local ministers or not. The NI assembly caved in and didn’t fight back when they were told to charge for water, and that if they didn’t, the Treasury would withhold certain funding components. This is explained quite clearly by the government here. Here’s what it says :

    A Northern Ireland Executive could decide to reverse the policy on water charges. But if it did it would have to decide how to sustain current levels of investment without cutting back on other public services such as health or education. This would be made extremely difficult by the loss of the Treasury concession on Water Service capital costs which is dependent on self-financing status being obtained. This concession is worth tens of millions of pounds over the next 20 years.

    and :

    Under Treasury rules, if water and sewerage services continue to be financed through taxes (such as the regional rate) we would have to cover certain costs (capital charges and depreciation) from our own resources (the budgets made available to out Departments). This would mean less money for other public services.

  • aquifer

    Can we afford sectarianism? Two sets of schools? MLAs who never govern? A flabby and expensive public sector dedicated to doling out to both sides equally? One set of people who think the state owes them a living and another who think the state just owes them? One and a half extra percentage points on your mortgage and your business taxes doubled.

    All it would take to get out of this loop is for some economically rational protestants to stay away from a border poll, getting themselves a chance to vote for the Progressive Democrats, and removing SF at a stroke.

  • Comrade Stalin
    I take your point.
    I wasnt aware of those specifics.
    Power devolved is very much power retained.
    However the NIO ministers dont really have the same interest in making the place work as a local MLA.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Phil,

    Believe me, I’m pro-devolution and I wish the politicians would stop faffing about and bring it in.

    However, I think that while our politicians elected here should be running things, the current crowd that we’ve got are incompetent. It was their incomptence which caused them to sign up to a crappy loan deal rather than continue to harangue the government to replace the Barnett formula, and they agreed to this “concession” from the treasury requiring water charges on top of already-increasing rates. I hope that devolution beds in and a new breed of politician emerges, who will win or lose elections solely based on their record of delivery in office.

  • Aaron McDaid

    The constitutional question won’t go away, but it’ll change. It won’t be the only issue, and it won’t be such a loaded issue as before.

    If anything, it could become an even bigger issue as people will be able to have a more honest discussion about it. And it’ll nicely dovetail with normal issues as parties have to campaign using normal issues to advance their constitutional position – e.g. SF and SDLP using their record to push a united Ireland, and unionists having to convince people that the status quo is a good because of their policies. And no, I don’t think there’d be any success in nationalists casuing NI to be a failure.

  • Crataegus

    Comrade

    Re No 7 above agree. How they agreed to the loan and surrounding conditions is beyond me. What is also beyond my understanding is why the media aren’t dragging some of them over the coals as a result. What state is NI journalism in?

    Aquifer

    Agree with your sentiments, but believe a useful interregnum would be greater devolution; virtual independence. Westminster is a break on regional economies.

  • Greenflag

    acquifer’

    Question :Can we afford sectarianism?

    Answer : No-but you’ve no choice in NI. It comes automatically with the State itself just like the free toy with your box of cornflakes

    Question:

    Two sets of schools?

    Answer : Of course . Each child in Northern Ireland should have it’s own school . That way every child will be cherished and there will be more jobs for teachers of every denomination and none. The kids will grow up not knowing any other kids and will thus only be slightly less neurotic and alienated from society than recent generations . This of course will be offset by the vastly higher A levels attained which will enable all the children of NI to go to Oxford or Cambridge and they will thus never return to NI and save the State from having to any schools at all at all .

    Question :

    MLAs who never govern?

    Answer : Did they ever ? The next bunch won’t either .

    Question:

    A flabby and expensive public sector dedicated to doling out to both sides equally? One set of people who think the state owes them a living and another who think the state just owes them? One and a half extra percentage points on your mortgage and your business taxes doubled.

    Answer :

    It’s what the people want – Panis et Circenses (Bread and Circuses )- the former emanating from the gouged English taxpayer and the latter from the political gyrations of the dozen or more Colonial Secretaries whom HMG sent over to the ungrateful wretches in the hope that they might see the light. Into the gyrational mix one must include all of the Norn Iron politicians some of whom have been making a good living /killing off the back of this pantomime for generations 🙁

  • Comrade Stalin

    In Scotland it is becoming observable that it takes the second generation of legislators to bed in and start doing the job properly.
    The 1st generation of MSPs either campaigned for against the assembly.
    The new crop were children when the assembly was set up.
    People don’t debate the Scottish assembly now they just want the highly paid egos there to deliver for the people who elected them.
    Even among the Tories the assembly’s existence is a non issue.
    The only issue about the Scottish assembly is the performance of the legislators inside the very expensive building.

    I’m afraid the Norn Iron assembly has a long and ill-defined road ahead of it.

    Where I a betting chap I would say that the Norn Iron assembly won’t last-although I hope it does.
    I live in Donegal and there is urgent need here for harmonisation of all sorts of practical things between Donegal and our three northern neighbours,Derry, Tyrone and Fermanagh.
    That is more likely to happen if it is pushed by MLAs from those western counties not some direct rule minister who cant find Derrygonnelly or Drumquin on a map!