Austerity can unite rather than divide the Assembly

I find myself picking up on Ed Curran’s column again. This week he fears a fresh Assembly crisis over the cuts.  In an open letter to David Cameron he claims

You have planted an economic bomb under Parliament Buildings at Stormont.

And goes on to say

The 2011 elections for the devolved assemblies could not have fallen at a worse time, because the parties in power have nothing to gain and everything to lose if they are seen to be supporting, approving, or even acquiescing to your spending review.

Ed places the 2011 elections in a similar category to the previous debacles that sunk the first power sharing executive in 1974 and Trimble in 2003. But  today is surely quite different. The very existence of a local adminstration was in bitter dispute on those occasions due to self harm. More recently, the parties got over their particular hump between 2006 and the Great Sulk of 2008-9. While stability can’t be taken for granted they may even see off a crisis over a possible SF first Minster from what I see and hear.

Might they yet implode over the cuts and hand the whole thing back to London? I don’t see it. It was internal division that stymied them in the past.  The one thing that always unites them isspending British taxpayers’ money, even if they think there should be more of it. They can equally comfortably unite in blaming the Brits for ” betrayal” over the St Andrews “deal.”

But even here the foot seems to be off the accelerator. Last Monday’s emergency debate in the Assembly was hardly sparkling but at least all parties went out of their way to call for a united approach and Peter’s breakfast speech this Monday was accorded a cautious welcome by SF. They all realise  they have to agree a budget by January, well before the elections. The whole community will be in the same boat, unionist and nationalist working people included.  On this there is no basic sectarian split.

Ed concluded by addressing Cameron:

Most likely, you’ll have to come over to Hillsborough for another crisis meeting or knock heads together in Downing Street soon.

But what could he say? All three devolved areas received similar treatment. In the key quadrilateral negotiations with Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander he heard what they had to say but promised nothing. In spite of the theatrics of their public reaction, the outcome did not come as a surprise. Sammy admitted as much. Comment that assumes the Prime Minister is hanging on every move in Stormont is way off the mark. In a sense, that’s to the credit of the parties. The glory days of NI exceptionalism are over. Those like Ed and me who grew up in them had better get used to the new era – which despite fresh problems,  is a whole lot better than the past.

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  • DC

    “The 2011 elections for the devolved assemblies could not have fallen at a worse time, because the parties in power have nothing to gain and everything to lose if they are seen to be supporting, approving, or even acquiescing to your spending review.”

    I’m sorry am I mistaken but aren’t they elected for a term, it’s not paid in employment they are in – it’s about rising and falling with the wider global, national and regional economic tides.

    Haven’t they been paid decent enough wages for what they have done (given they have done so little anyway – not forgetting the Assembly MLAs were paid from 2003 onwards for the time up to 2007 when the Assembly never sat nor met or did anything – basically paid for doing nothing between 2003-07).

    They are elected for a term and perhaps if they all took the outlook that their term in office will be well and truly up after the 4 years more would be achieved within that period given to them by the electorate, rather than trying to do less work and prolong the years in office by both avoiding risk and difficult decisions.

    So come on MLAs, come on you turkeys – vote for Christmas – it’s coming anyway cowards!

  • bob wilson

    Good article Brian. I think Ed’s argument is lame.
    Also it is built upon a tiresome (and slightly racist) idea that Cameron has no understanding/sympathy/time for Northern Ireland which is not born out by the facts.
    Cameron wants to change things in NI – he tried to change politics but was let down by the UUP (something he is very conscious of) and he wants to change or economy. His unwise remarks during the campaign allowed the media to portray him as some ‘evil English hatchman’ (not borne out by the Spending Review) but in essence he was saying he wants a brighter economic future for Northern Ireland.
    He is believed to be keen on the idea of cutting Corporation Tax to 10% in NI but no doubt this will be regarded by the media and local politicos as an evil plan to save GB money!
    In reality we need a radical ‘game changer’ if my children or Ed’s grand children are to have a future in NI

    Truth is that our politicos (who all used to clamour for the Corpor Tax idea) will actually have to earn their living and make some tough decisions.

    Ed’s premise seems to be that Cameron needs to keep pandering to us for fear the local politicos are stupid enough to collapse the Assembly/Exec. Cameron knows they wont otherwise he would have agreed to meet them before now

  • iluvni

    I’m of the opinion that if things get a bit too difficult for some on the Executive, a few wee ‘reminders’ of the past will occur with the aim of concentrating the mind of Cameron…. vociferously condemned by Sinn Fein, of course.

  • DC

    Vote for Christmas!

    Or else vote for permanence over perfomance next May – make us permanent fixtures at Stormont while we give two fingers to performance!

    Our MLAs have more in common with civil servants.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Surely this weeks debate on student fees says it all. The SDLP (Pat Ramsey, Dolores Kelly, Conall McDevitt)
    produced a very good motion on no increases which of course appeals to their own electorate and I would suggest many other voters in other communities. And of course it appealed to students themselves who were at Stormont.

    The motion was defeated by 44-29 with Unionists (UUP and DUP being against ordinary people having access to education). Sinn Féin who dont actually believe in student fees at all supported the motion……or at least those who did actually attend……with a pretty good and amusing speech by Sue Ramsey.
    The AP were also supportive although Chris Little the new MLA from East Belfast made a very nervy speech.
    Going into an election……..actually its always two elections….no party will be talking about cuts if their inter tribal rival is not talking about cuts.

    Therefore the battle lines are drawn……UUP and DUP can talk about them. The SDLP and SF wont.
    Will anybody in the unionist community be so annoyed at UUP and DUP that they will contemplate voting SDLP or SF?
    Will anybody in the nationalist community be so annoyed at SDLP and SF that they will contemplate a vote for UUP or DUP?

  • joeCanuck

    All of the cards have now been played. We have no way to “persuade” (with menaces?) our fellow citizens in the other regions that we don’t need to share the pain resulting from the mismanagement of public spending and the greed of the rich.

  • DC

    Mind you Sinn Fein did say about reducing civil service pay by 15% for those earning 40k above in sync with a cut to MLAs own pay – so that would have a bit of a bite in both constituencies for sure.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Not a lot of civil servants earn more than £40,000 a year and nobody in the clerical grades would be earning that much. So safe for SF to say that.
    Catholics actually outnumber Protestants in the CIvil Service and in middle senior grades theres more o less parity.
    SF could safely call for this and not adversely affect its vote.

  • Reader

    fitzjameshorse1745: The SDLP (Pat Ramsey, Dolores Kelly, Conall McDevitt)
    produced a very good motion on no increases which of course appeals to their own electorate and I would suggest many other voters in other communities.

    It was a very generous offer. Where did the SDLP get the money to pay for this? Party funds? Or out of a different departmental budget? Health, perhaps?
    Will the SDLP subsidise QUB fees for English students too? Will they pay Trinity and Cambridge fees for NI students?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Apparently the cost per new Minister Danny Kennedy is £80million if I heard orrectly.
    The point is that this is a totemic issue and the SDLP have made its point. As has Sinn Féin. It wont cost them any votes.
    You might prefer to call it “gesture politics”.
    I was making this point in support of Mr Ed Currans contention that the local parties have nothing to gain and everything to lose by supporting approving and acquiesing in Westminster cuts”
    Mr Brian Walker takes an alternate view which I believe to be mistaken.

  • DC

    Maybe, I don’t have the figures but I wouldn’t be as sure.

  • DC

    It wont cost them many votes – pathetic – because it could cost others their lives.

    Absolutely pathetic.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    There were 720 appoinments to the NICS last year.
    Only 15 were managerial and 95 “other professional”
    A graduate fast track entrant gets about £25,000 pa.
    Technical/Clerical staff recruited were about 500. Starting pay for most would be around £15,000
    Elementary jobs were about 120……..janitors, drivers, etc…….again nowhere near £40,000

    52% of appointments last year were Catholic.
    Like I say SF could safely call for a 15% reduction in salary and not have a single person say “Im changing my vote cos youll cost me money”

    And actually its not that much different from Tory/Lin Dem govt taking child benefit off people earning above £40,000

  • DC

    That’s appointments only and it’s last year’s – the crash happened in UK post Oct 08 so it’s unlikely the NICS would take on many more costly managers. But what about overall managers in place in NICS at the moment?

    I reckon you’ll be surprised how many managers there are out there or those people hitting MLA-levels of pay in the wider public sector.

  • Dr Concitor

    According to a recent Stormont PAC enquiry senior grades in the NICS are paid 22% above their equivalents in the private sector.

  • joeCanuck

    A straight forward comparison has difficulties. Private sector jobs may come with loads of perquisites, car allowance, expense accounts and the like.

  • Driftwood

    Pathetic populist whinge by Curran, and indeed our parish pump assembly.

    The Irish government is about to embark on the ‘harshest budget ever’ down South, cutting about 5 billion euro thereabouts (£4 million). That’s less than half the Westminster ANNUAL Subvention to NI (less than a third the size and population of the republic).

    Get real folks, we pay less than half the rates/council tax bill of people on the UK mainland.. people who come from GB cannot believe how little we pay. And the sheer number of people ‘economically inactive’ paid for by the mainlanders.

    We’re in clover here, McGuinness, robinson, Adams etc should be on their knees before George Osborne thanking him. They could tie his bootlaces while they’re at it, but none of them are fit enough.

  • “Constraints
    • there is an upper limit of 12 in Scotland and 6 in Wales on the number of special advisers
    • no advisers can have managerial control over civil servants (like Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell do at Number 10)”

    How many special advisers do we have and who pays?

  • Dr Concitor

    Joe, I think all that was taken into account.( it is somewhere on their web site if you want to check it out) The big bonus for civil servants is the final salary pension which private sector people can only dream about.

  • Pace parent

    The Ulster Unionists had an opportunity to be part of the current coalition government but rejected the offer on behalf of their electorate. The rest suggested they could manage this place on their own. The collective Assembly rejection of responsibility on supporting, approving, or even acquiescing to the spending review simply demonstrates the useless nature of the corpulent bloated body. Who but the political classes and their nepotistic family members gives a toss about the forthcoming elections and the froth surrounding them?

  • Cynic

    Perhaps they could make some cuts at Stormont – like stopping all that useless advertising in the Bel Tel for which they are charged phenomenal rates