A large dollop of reality from Tom Kelly who notes a vain of political timidity running through the two main political parties at Stormont… And now they are lumbered with a number of populist policies to sweeten the pill of indolent devolution, but seem unable to deal with anything beyond those policy devices they have inherited from direct rule:
The executive never seemed comfortable with tough decisions. From the start it ducked anything that had to do with the implementing of taxation. After being beaten into government by Peter Hains threat to implement water charges, the administration went into the mode of the tick man with everything not being charged going on the wacky economics of the never-never.
All parties stated quite clearly there would not be water charges. Not on separate bills and not on one bill because they said we already paid for water. Deep down they and we knew that, while that was technically true, we clearly werent paying enough but the theatrics of united opposition was worthy of pantomime. Jack and the Beanstalk really only without the benefit of the magic beans.
Soon to follow was the freeze on domestic rates and the exemption for manufacturing business. Then of course, free prescriptions. Not forgetting the people who got a £1,000 cheque for not having home insurance when their homes flooded. Well truth be told, they could have had insurance as they got the £1,000 anyway.
Lack of indigenous policy making and an unwillingness to test the opinion of their bases doesn’t help either:
Sinn Fein has problems too. Water charges are needed before the entire system collapses but Conor Murphy is ploughing a lonely political field when he calls for their implementation.
Yet the real problems lie with the education minister. Her department is totally dysfunctional mainly due to her and thats not a media myth. The minister is full of saccharine and short on substance. She is completely unable to convince anyone but her most loyal of colleagues of her policies.
Surely someone in Sinn Fein knows that she is damaging not only her party but her department and the education system in Northern Ireland. She is driven by a mistaken and misguided commitment to a flawed policy.
Education is a case in point. None of the provisions the Minister wants implemented came through the Sinn Fein party machine. In fact there is no evidence that the party has invested any time considering education policy from the ground up. In fact Ruane’s proposals are a grab from the Costello report (ie from the work done under a English direct rule minister).
Kelly argues that this weakness on the part of their opponents is the SDLP’s big opportunity, but only if they tie their policy making instincts to the interests of their base and to the ends of target their political opponents in Sinn Fein. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the old collapse and escape responsibility routine…
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