Will Brian Feeny light the bonfire?

Brian Feeney today takes a swipe inter alia at the Northern establishment especially the DUP, for being clueless about how they’ll face inevitable financial cuts, preferring instead to sit crowing on top of their own wee dung-heap. In contrast, he points to an Bord Snip:

One of the key aspects of An Bord Snip’s recommendations is a hard look at the cost of the state apparatus in the south. In this wee place with one and a half million the NIO and Stormont together have constructed a replica of a sovereign state with all the boards, commissions and quangos they could think of.

In principle, I seriously agree with him. The huge nomenklatura built up during the Troubles still overshadows the Assembly and allows them to evade tough choices by keeping the show on the road after a fashion. At best most of them politely patronise the Assembly; at worst, they despair of it. Brian will admit though that much of this apparatus evolved mainly to create Catholic equality. Next, you needed some balance and before you knew it, you had created a ballooning bureaucracy, much of it at the behest of the two governments. I remember an appalled but diligent Lib Dem peer doing duty on NI business, showing me a literally two feet high pile of glossy reports from NI agencies. Could we risk scrapping much of this today? The idea was, if you objectivise governance and make it more rights-based, you draw the poison of politics out of it. Now that politics have returned, poison and all, the two approaches can be said to be incompatible. You couild say the structures remain in place to give space to Assembly parties to build trust in each other and the public. In our present fragile enough state, who is brave enough to light the bonfire of the quangos and replace them with what? A strong confident coalition of the willing? More council control than the thin pickings in the Review of Public Administration? Maybe Brian has a manifesto ready.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London