Direct Rule should be avoided but not because it delivered bad government

I ‘d prefer us to learn to live together through governing together anyday. But this rant from Kevin Myers barks loudly up the wrong tree. Usually Kevin is the great knocker of republican myths but here he warns:

At bottom, it’s the very Englishness of the English which is the impediment to their good government of the Irish. The Irish remember a great deal — to be sure, most of it wrongly: either way, an active historical imagination is a powerful ingredient in Irish identity. For the English, amnesia is the great defining anvil upon which the imponderables of their identity are hammered. Believe me on this: it’s better for everyone if the lads in the North get their act together, and England never, EVER, governs any part of Ireland again.

Kevin, I know what you’re up to – playing up to the instinct of both sides uniting against English. It’s great for the saloon bar but it’s really a lot of ould cod.
That very “English” lack of memory delivered rational government for years. Its deficiency was the quasi-colonial one of leaving the natives with nothing to do else except playing up prejudices to harvest votes and fighting among themselves. By itself, that was reason enough for backing devolution.

Direct Rule delivered reforms now taken for granted and supported across the board it would have taken years for a divided local Assembly to agree on if ever : a practical rights regime including fair employment, Irish medium education, anti- discrimination against gays in booking hotel rooms and civil partnerships, the outline of a shared future they expected ( fruitlessly so far) the locals to implement. Not to mention the big ticket item which with whatever flaws, remains the best block grant deal in the UK. And it was delivered without political pressure, the locals having precious little clout with the Treasury, partly to encourage political agreement.

Northern Ireland received £5,684 per head: 21 per cent above the UK average spend per head and £1,161 more per head than that spent in England Scotland received £5,676 per head: 21 per cent above the UK average and £1,153 more per head than that spent in England Wales received £5,050 per head: 8 per cent above the UK average and £527 more per head than that spent in England England received £4,523 per head: 3 per cent below the UK average

Contrast this with the DUP’s boast of early achievements for restored devolution .
The party highlights:

The Titanic Signature tourism project, securing 600 construction jobs.
Freeze for the second year on the regional rate.
Equality in cultural funding — £40k this week to the Maiden City Festival.
“The primary disappointment of the last 12 months is the continued refusal of the Education Minister to act in a professional way to find a way forward on education reform that everyone can agree to,” the Strangford MLA added ( no, not Iris)

Even for early days, the record was sparse. The truth is direct rule set the benchmarks for the locals to live up to. British ministers resisted the normal politicians’ instinct to proclaim their own achievements too loudly because they were desperate for the locals to take over and claim the reward. Fill in the rest yourself.

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

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