Ivan Lewis lays it out for SF and the DUP “…no government can afford to sign blank cheques to Northern Ireland”

I missed this last week, because I was mostly off on holidays. But given Theresa Villiers situation grim messaging last night, it’s worth noting these series of Tweets from Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State Ivan Lewis last Friday:

He later said on Evening Extra that “tough decisions are necessary and we need leadership from Northern Ireland’s parties”. Sinn Fein’s Chairman Declan Kearney was not happy

“His criticism of Sinn Féin and other parties, and his choice of language were both high handed and totally unhelpful”.

“Other parties”. Presumably he wants us to think that that refers to the Greens and the SDLP, since they both support a hold out against the current deal. But Lewis’s remarks were much more general and much less prescriptive than that.

In practical terms neither the SDLP nor the Greens are neither the deal makers, or deal blocker here. Only two parties are in Lewis’s frame. That’s Sinn Fein, and their OFMdFM partners the DUP.

And in dragging their heels as Sinn Fein’s own spokesman Conor Murphy notes

…should we even agree a budget – a fantasy budget or a real budget – in the next number of weeks that could be further undermined by further in-year cuts imposed by the Treasury. Signs of political will, I have to say, are scarce.”

Certainly Peter Robinson is not going to be fighting Sinn Fein’s corner for them any further, saying they “come to the end of the road and were not prepared to fudge the issue any further”.

This is just pretendy politics from Sinn Fein to sit alongside the DUP’s pretendy budget. As Ian Parsley notes, there’s nothing to stop the Executive from making changes to the budget to find another £2 Billion:

English householders already pay prescription charges, water bills, three times the tuition fees and Council Tax which is typically over double the Household Rates paid in Northern Ireland. Introducing all of this for Northern Ireland would raise almost £1 billion – that alone adding almost 10% to the Assembly’s annual current resource spending.

Secondly, we may look at our own wastage on segregated provision. Just this year, the Executive overruled a Minister who wanted to move away from the current system of training too many teachers in small and segregated and subsidised institutions inefficiently at a premium.

Over an Assembly term, even starting this process by removing the subsidy would save £10 million – and that is just one example. By most estimates, integrating all such services (as is normal in England) would save over £1 billion per year for reallocation to frontline services – enough for the voluntary exit scheme, welfare mitigation and the reduction in Corporation Tax taken together!

Thirdly, there are other quirks here too. For example, both parties voted for a cap which means someone in a £1.2 million mansion pays just a third of their rates. Some voluntary organisations do not pay rates at all. Our concessionary fares scheme includes more people (at greater cost) than the English equivalent. All of this adds up to further millions lost to our budget.

If NI is a failed political entity as asserted by Barry McElduff in his Periscope interview with Jude Collins this week, it is less to do with the entity so much as SF’s own failure of political will to uphold the promises it has made (perhaps foolishly) to its own electorate.

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