With a rigid focus on ideology over practical politics, is nationalism lagging in the economic race?

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 20.02.34That was the headline over Jim Gibney’s column in the Irish News yesterday. It usefully strips away all the talk of crisis and gets to the bare bones of the struggle for power and influence in Stormont.

He concludes with the line that “the DUP should be mindful […] that power sharing involves sharing power, not the delusion of unionism monopolising power.”

It’s certainly not been a great record for the battle a day administration. Leave aside the lost deal over the Maze, the party’s voluble efforts to end selective education they have achieved little more than tokenistic changes.

The current deadlock in Stormont and the endless stand offs in north Belfast stand in marked contrast with the aspirational hopes of Martin McGuinness that he would serve the interests of protestant north and west Belfast seem a long time gone.

As Alban Maguinness rather pointedly highlighted on The View last night, whatever else this joint DUP/Sinn Fein administration is, it is not the sort of partnership government that’s needed for tangible delivery of strong and popular social goods.

There’s a certain self inflicted lack of focus on the nitty gritty of government. As Richard Bruton pointed out in the Dail this week it is not always possible to dictate to companies coming in from other countries where they invest.

The decision of Stream to come back to Northern Ireland after a two year absence but to the First Minister’s East Belfast constituency rather than the dFM’s native Derry (with a £3.3m government sweetner) where the original jobs once were is as much a sign of keen international competition for FDI as any direct reproach to the SF man’s lack of local prowess.

The real reproach is that Northern Ireland remains on the FDI starting grid, spending money to get us back the very same point we were at ten or fifteen years ago rather than moving Northern Ireland up the value chain by developing higher value employment opportunities from those firms already here.

At this juncture it is customary to blame Invest NI for the shortcomings in NI development strategy, but we’ve had local control of the jobs/economy agenda for six years now. 2007 has proven an inauspicious time to start, after four and a half year delay for self inflicted negotiations over the disposal of guns.

As for the FM and the dFM, there is not just too much focus on what divides them, but Jim’s article gives the sense there is some kind of sub rosa deathmatch going on that’s not as far below the surface as both men seem to think in the press opportunities.

John Manley summed it up perfectly last week when he noted that “their behaviour [at the Stream launch] was reminiscent of shopkeepers John and Mary from the sitcom Father Ted, who are as nice as pie in the presence of the eponymous priest but tear shreds out of each other in private”.

I doubt it is as personal as that between the two men, but Sinn Fein’s rigid focus on ideology over practical politics is helping to deliver economic meat and drink to unionist east Belfast.

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