In the BelTel, Liam Clarke has an excellent summation of just how Stormont’s Executive got itself into this mess:
The origins of the crisis lie in 2007, the final year before the property crash, when the Executive parties agreed a number of eye-catching giveaways. Water rates were set aside, at a current cost of £180m a year; our leaders held regional rates down, giving us the lowest household taxes in the UK, and there were also free prescriptions for everyone and free travel for the over 60s.
None of these benefits are available in Britain and they aren’t covered by our block grant subsidy from Westminster. The hope was that we could sell surplus public sector land into the booming property market to fund them, but that proved impossible.
The Executive made the same mistake as the banks – it gambled on property.
Now years of cutting and trimming to keep promises most politicians were too scared to revisit has left us with no fat. Health costs are rising and we have run up against a Tory-led government that is unwilling to bail us out at a time when it is imposing cuts in its own constituencies.
After all the airy rhetoric about flags, the border and gay blood bans, balancing the books has turned out to be the most serious challenge the Executive has yet faced. That is the real business of government and it will define this Executive in a way that other issues have not.
In retrospect, a lot of the things that concerned politicians looked suspiciously like distractions while they stuffed bills in the drawer hoping that they could indefinitely avoid payment.
For good measure, why not throw in the bailing out of the Presbyterian Mutual Society too… Having ignored the recession, we may now see the very people Martin McGuinness once threatened to put manners on roughly shove the politicians out of the way and cut their budgets…
Ahem, it is not as though they were not warned about it? A NICVA commissioned pre budget report in 2010 in particular that OFMdFM’s current lines in the sand would be unsustainable:
It is our view that totally protecting large spending programmes in the face of deep cuts to the overall block is simply not feasible. Both health and education will need to bear some of the burden of cuts if the Executive is to maintain a meaningful presence in other spending areas.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty