“Trench warfare has erupted…”

Via Newshound.  In the Sunday Times Liam Clarke welcomes the “trench warfare” the parties are engaging in over the Northern Ireland Executive’s draft spending plans.   Apparently, it’s better than the sectarian squabbling that went before…  ANYhoo…  From the transcribed Sunday Times article

The eruption of public anger and megaphone diplomacy reflects the poisonous atmosphere around the executive table itself. McGimpsey needled the furious McGuinness by saying, “calm down Martin, don’t get so excited”. McGuinness and Robinson are both accustomed to getting their own way, as well as being leaders in struggling to implement a difficult budget. Yet, however annoyed they may get, there is little they can do to bring “semi-detached” McGimpsey or other UUP and SDLP ministers into line.

Under the St Andrews and Good Friday agreements, ministers are appointed to the executive by party leaders in proportion to their strength in the Assembly. Since only their own leaders can remove them, there is an incentive to dig their heels in rather than take responsibility for unpopular measures. This encourages a “silo mentality”, whereby each minister utterly controls his or her own fiefdom.

That worked well enough when there was plenty of money and a Labour prime minister at Downing Street generally willing to cough up whatever was necessary to keep the peace process on track. Now, after four years of political stability, that has changed. The all-party government is surrounded by checks and balances, “ugly scaffolding” as Mark Durkan called them, which make it hard to deal with the business of taking difficult decisions quickly. It is, in other words, approaching its sell-by date.

The problem is that the system makes no provision for the sort of formal opposition you find in most parliaments. There are no funds, no speaking rights, and no committee chairmanships for opposition parties; so there is an incentive to stay in government even if you oppose government policy.

Read the whole thing.

Adds  In the Belfast Telegraph, Ed Curran makes a related point.

Another week passes and Executive ministers continue to contemplate their collective navels, as they have been doing for months over public spending cuts.

The ministers employ more consultants and announce more public inquiries. No-one seems to be able to break the cycle of inaction.

The procrastination of our Stormont politicians is beyond comprehension. What are they playing at?

As Stormont sat beyond midnight last week, the five leaders of the south’s main political parties debated the future on television – not an encouraging experience, either.

They bickered among one another and engaged in blame games. None appeared willing to acknowledge any part in the Republic’s economic mess.

Meanwhile, the Stormont Executive continues to fiddle while Northern Ireland’s economy smoulders, if not burns. Property prices continue to fall. The percentage of unemployed worsens by the month.

No-one may be lighting any bonfires on Malin Head anymore, but the leaving of Ulster is under way again in earnest and a message of despair is ringing out across this island. Never was political decisiveness and leadership more needed. Seldom can it have been so sadly absent.