Have the Assembly got the guts to face up to recession?

How will the Assembly parties deal with the recession? They’re in a new type of dilemma that goes with devolution. If they start a blame game with the UK government as Nigel Dodds seems to be suggesting, they’ll look impotent to their own voters. If they take the tough decisions within their own range of powers, they risk unpopularity. Political reform would be a good start but have they really the stomach for it? it’s a great idea to cut the size of the overblown political institutions. But why limit cuts to the size of the Executive? Why not take an axe to the tally of 108 MLAs, which compares with 78 for the 1973 and 1982 Assemblies and a mere 52 for the old parliament? The trouble is that cuts like these are about much more than efficiency, as Nigel Dodds well knows. They’re toxic political matters and relate to the balance of parties in the Executive and so to the stability of the whole fledgling system of government.
Adds. Alliance party calculations on the impact of a 72 seat Assembly on the party share out of seats in government, illustrates the problem, as reported by Mark Devenport. The DUP and Sinn Fein are rightly or wrongly suspected of making a power grab with the proposal to reduce the number of departments at the smaller parties’ expense. Cross community agreement will therefore be hard to reach. A sensible trade-off would be to entrench cabinet collective responsibility much more firmly rather than trying to concentrate power in the OFMDFM, like the moves to deal with headline grabbing emergencies in Financial Assistance Act 2009. A good example could be set by offering to cut the size of the massive OFDFM. But the trend unfortunately seems to have been the other way. The SDLP’s £400 million savings plan could be practical starting point. But who wants to jump first? Sadly – very sadly indeed – it is probably too much to hope for that the Assembly as we know it will tackle to additional costs of sectarian division, whether you fully accept Deloitte’s cost of £!.5 billion a year or not. A point of departure here would be to tackle the future of secondary schools provision, currently in deadlock as far as the eye can see over academic selection. My fear is that the Assembly parties will want to ride out recession without political risk to themselves. And the chances of exploiting the financial crisis to go for radical reform like integrating education are round about nil.

  • danielmoran

    as i would have expected, the only reason we have an assembly is the dup’s calculation back in ’07 that sinn fein were bluffing by backing the police in the ardfheis just prior to the agreement, and paisley called their bluff.
    they looked at the numbers after the result of the election, and if the dup hadn’t been in a position to take first ministers job, it would never have got off the ground. the same will be true of the next assembly elections. this time for the dup the numbers may not stack up. from that point on, nationalists will be in the driving seat in the north.

  • Barnshee

    The turkeys will not vote for Xmas -or is a more appropriate analogy headless chickens?

  • jj

    “from that point on, nationalists will be in the driving seat in the north.”

    Of course, given the mechanisms which exist at Stormont, even if unionists were in the minority, they can veto anything and everything that natioanlists tried to do. The reality is that nationalists will never truely be in the driving seat, no matter what changes there are in numbers.

  • fin

    JJ, and if the unionists veto everything Stormont will collapse, what happens then? Joint Authority?

    Paisley agreed to powersharing to avoid that alternative. Unionism end up with a choice between two scenarios they don’t want, either way NI continues to slide into a united Ireland, the choices amount to at what speed does it travel and more importantly what deal unionism can cut.

  • danielmoran

    brian…. ‘has the assembly got the guts to face up to the recession’
    well, when you notice that they won’t even take on departments that might cause them to lose votes, then ‘no’ is the answer to that. the existence of the present set up at stormont since ’07 is the result of a failed bluff by the shinners as i pointed out earlier. it will be back to direct rule after the next assembly elections. and good riddance to the time servers.

  • Neil

    In answer to the question posed in the tag line I would refer you to this:

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/politics/row-looming-over-stormont-logjam-14276929.html

    which, to me at any rate, illustrates the guts the Assembly doesn’t have. They will do what they think we want them to do, which is to go with the begging bowls and demand as much as they can get, and complain no matter what.

    Fickle bunch, us voters though, because I get the impression that many of us are fed up with the begging bowl approach, and would appreciate some attempt to be frugal with our money (as we ourselves have to be these days). One hard nosed business man could save the taxpayer a fortune in this part of the world, if he were given the chance to.

  • joeCanuck

    This Assembly set up was a gamble. It could work very well if all of the parties were truly committed to fairly sharing this small place. But if they don’t or won’t, then it is an utterly undemocratic mess. The signs haven’t been too good but maybe that will change.

  • The Raven

    “A sensible trade-off…”

    It is simply beyond them.

    “Fickle bunch, us voters though, because I get the impression that many of us are fed up with the begging bowl approach”

    It is beyond them, too, to consider voting beyond their established “lines”.

    Deadlock. I hope to proved wrong.