After austerity, will Northern Ireland grasp its limited opportunities?

I have to say Brian has it about right when he says OFMdFM cannot afford to continue its newly minted habit of belligerency inside Stormont Castle in its response to the coming demands of the new UK administration. One thing the budget did point out was the degree to which Westminster rather than Stormont sets out the broader lines of social policy.

Cameron and Osborne have flagged their intention to shift the emphasis for social action from the state to the people. Despite the predominant pattern of post war UK politics (and the comment in the press) this is not an inherently right wing view. But it will ask very serious questions of a post St Andrews settlement, built in large measure on a massive and consistent spend of public money to in order to underwrite and cement political stability in Northern Ireland.

So what are the real opportunities? A very upbeat analysis in the Irish Examiner today seizes on the most tangible: ie the promise of increase in foreign direct investment if corporation tax tates are lowered to bring Northern Ireland into line with the low rates of the Republic.

But it remains to be seen whether a political class whose fortunes have waxed on the political maxim of ‘rights and entitlements’ as opposed to ‘responsibilities’ has the stomach to swallow the cutting of domestic spending in the short term in order to create that competitive advantage in the longer term.

Given how long it took them to disagree on the reform of local government (or rather to come to the agreement not to reform it at all, despite all their previous public posturing on the issue), don’t hold your breath for too long. Despite its completely different complexion, this power sharing government is beginning to develop the same musty odour as the once unchallengeable administrations of Stormont’s old ‘House of Commons’.

But given the astringent actions of the Republic’s government is now being followed by that of the UK, how much longer can Northern Ireland’s politicians shirk their responsibilities to wider society.

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