The time has come to put cards on the table. The British government should publish its funding proposals and refuse point blank to entertain a return to direct rule or even a suspension of the Assembly. If necessary it should impose a financial settlement. This would reverse the natural rhythm of devolution whereby the centre responds to the region’s proposals. The local administration it turns out, hasn’t got any. There is no reason whatever why the British government should remain semi-detached. They did not do so over the Smith committee in Scotland when the Treasury was heavily involved in devising joint responsibility for taxation with the future of welfare and the block grant still in play.
Simon Hamilton seems to have done some sums worth say £200 million p. a. for welfare, the equivalent of the Treasury loan. Publish them. They were prodded into agreeing the rest of a budget. Perhaps it can happen again. £200 million out of 10 billion is manageable, hardly worth the shame of failure.
The obsession with tactics has got to stop. These little groups have no idea how they are becoming despised.
The breath taking sense of entitlement which even the smaller parties exhibit is the most urgent matter of the past to lay to rest . “The legacy of thirty years of conflict” they parrot is now a dud argument. There are plenty with worse pockets of poverty in GB who abominate “Tory cuts” every bit as anyone in Northern Ireland. These will be put the UK voters in May. The British government could extend its own borrowing powers to Stormont at almost zero rates of interest. But who would trust this lot with them?
There is an excellent case for devising a strategy for dealing with the past that costs less than Adams’ figure of thirty million plucked from the air, to be paid for by the British government as the sovereign power , as Labour seems to favour. Other than that, Cameron is right to throw their failure back in their faces. Unlike the GFA nearly 15 year ago, this time the British government wants nothing from Northern Ireland that the highest per head block grant in the UK doesn’t basically cover. But the British government has some hard thinking to do. As with Scotland which nearly lost them the Union, their detachment has been counter productive, even though they recently bumped up the NIO to deal with slow burning crisis. Cameron should never have come on these terms and departs looking perfunctory and rather silly. And what was Kenny doing other than handholding when finance was the dominant topic?
Sinn Fein won’t walk away. Without a transparent plan to replace the old footsie at the conference table, they won’t risk the smell of failure that will seep south and render them unfit for government there too . If the local parties finally flunk it, no one will have much sympathy for them in any part of Britain and Ireland and the people will continue to lose out.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London