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.

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  • Revenue raising would just see more waste in a budget already bloated and inefficiently spent. Our public spending far too large. First step is to make better use of the money we already have. Why should we be taxed to save SF blushes? Though hardly surprising it is the increasingly lefty Alliance that jumps into the tax-em-high Club to keep the show going.

  • chrisjones2

    Who elected Declan Kearney to deal with our affairs in NI?

  • chrisjones2

    “Some voluntary organisations do not pay rates at all. ”

    Didnt BBC Spotlight show that many SF MLAs rented their offices from some very strange “Charities” that didn’t pay rates? DO they therefore have a direct interest in this? Have any of them ever declared an interest?

  • Brian Walker

    The Parsley programme of higher rates, water charges cutting the marginal costs of segregation etc makes complete sense, ideally. Will any party including the Alliance party put it forward in next year’s assembly elections? Ian I see has written a thoughtful piece on welfare reform for Scope, the NICVA magazine. What do they and the rest of civil society think? One of the depressing things about reform is the reluctance of civil society as a whole to debate it seriously. Too scared of losing government subsidies .why bother when the politicians are only interested in the numbers game? Are all the nice people who know the score but stay schtum any better in the end than the politicians?

  • Brian Walker

    thedisssenter, If you’re responsible for raising more of your own revenue, you’ll be more responsible about spending it. That’s the principle of devolution which barely applies in NI. They only do the spending bit which distorts the whole process of accountability and creates the whacky sense of entitlement we’ve heard the politicians spout for years on end. ,

  • OpenGoal

    “Some voluntary organisations do not pay rates at all. ”

    While I take Parsley’s point about revenue raising more generally, it seems disingenuous to include rate relief offered to charities under this.

    Rate relief is a recognition of the fact that these organisations provide services that have a net saving to the taxpayer, employ staff, train and upskill volunteers etc. Big Society in action surely?

    Any increase in overheads would directly impact on service provision, which would then have to be picked up by the state in one form of another (either directly replacing the service or dealing with the longer-term impact of poor provision).

  • Kevin Breslin

    In the two Alliance departments we’ve seen failure to cut segregation. DoJ has seen peacewalls rise up and all DEL can do to integrate St Mary’s and Stranmillis is to try to implement a failed tithe strategy.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The changes wouldn’t work anyway, so it’s totally Alliance’s fault, there’s really not been any work done on this issue but spin a cut in teacher training as a time and work investment in shared education.

    If he spent as much time actually working with the colleges as he does his favoured lazy option (of blaming his political opponents for the operation of St. Mary’s and Stranmillis as some sort of super-Executive force that created and runs these colleges and so justified dereliction of duty on that basis) maybe he would have done something.

    If he got agreement with the colleges as an actual minister rather than just a backbench Executive member then other parties in the executive would have no leg to stand on. Instead he’s done nothing but make noises on the issue as an egomanic politician who thinks “integration” is doing things his way, the do nothing way.

    I can only think Steven Farry is uncommitted to shared teaching education because he’d be starved of platitudes to bore the rest of society with. He can be executive on this matter but does not appear to have the will to be.

    You tell me what he’s actually doing to encourage these colleges to work together because lamenting that they don’t work together is mere journalism not politics.

    It’s a teacher training cut being spun defensively and shamelessly as an integration measure in such a manner that actually destroys any work on these colleges networking and sharing resources.

    Tithes don’t work, play the stick sans carrot approach here and people will just eat the stick and do what they always did anyway, after all sticks are why people are separated from one another.

  • Jag

    SF will get hammered down South if they agree to a pretendy budget. They haven’t shaken off the “voodoo economics” moniker and as the Southern economy starts to seriously pick up, they’ll be on the defensive. To then add a pretendy budget to the mix, will just make them a laughing stock. Jimbo is bang on the nail with his comments

    “Even by Stormont’s standards, talk of a fictional budget takes some beating!

    No credible minister or executive can introduce a budget they know to be a sham. It makes a mockery of accountable government and will bring Stormont into further disrepute, if such is possible.”

  • Dan

    Why haven’t the PSNI investigated this fraud yet?

  • Dan

    Raising more money here, will just give Sinn Fein more opportunity to steal it

  • Ciarán

    Great point Chris because all political parties over the world are staffed only by elected members.

  • chrisjones2

    Wash your mouth out!! Its all perfectly above Board. Gerry and Marty said so.

    As for PSNI, well if they even asked the question Sinn Fein (“how dare they”) might complain on behalf of their landlords / concerned citizens deprived of worth lectures on the history of Countess Markevitz or the brilliance of the Party Leadership in securing a United Ireland by 2016 – or should that be 2116? And we cannot have that

    The real answer is that they dont do anything because no-one makes a complaint so they don’t turn over the stones. And what public servant would dare do so?

    And the DUP don’t complain because they are in partnership in Government with SF and live surrounded by very fragile glass installed by various glazing companies and builders / developers and their own foibles.

    And the UUP dont because they are supine

    And the Stoops don’t because – well they are Stoops and SF might accuse them of siding with themuns if they did so, so they hide away

  • chrisjones2

    “If you’re responsible for raising more of your own revenue, you’ll be more responsible about spending it. ”

    Brian, I am sorry but with the system we have and the levels of incompetence in our body politic I have to say that that is unmitigated nonsense.

  • chrisjones2

    …not just SF …….

  • chrisjones2

    My understanding was that the Colleges didn’t want integration on any basis. Too many jobs at risk from share systems / facilities / courses. And its bad enough having to put up with their own slothful and smelly students rather than have to take themuns’s on as well

  • chrisjones2

    Really …so can you point to the unelected members in Fine Gael Fianna Fail The Conservatives Labour and Lib Dems who spout policy to the populace on behalf of the parties??

  • Robin Keogh

    Go find out and come back and let us know?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Sorry I didn’t realize integration in real life didn’t involve inconveniences and arguments. Must be the case someone stands on a lectern gives a grandstanding speech and then everyone follows. Rather than give and take, it’s take it from me.

  • barnshee

    Can`t find out —the parties concerned -particularly at Gulladuff refuse to answer
    As a member in good standing perhaps you could use you good offices to find out

    The Income at Gulladuff
    The legal status at Gulladuff
    The number of employees
    The number who work for SF
    etc etc

    Looking forward to a post soon

  • Ciarán

    Declan Kearney is an internally elected member of SF (just as all part chairman would be) and when we vote Sinn Fein we get the party machine behind it. This is no different to any other party. Google Sean Dorgan (FF) or Grant Schapps (Con) to see how publicly unelected party members in other parties give interviews and talk about policy.

  • Robin Keogh

    I am certainly a card carrying member but i have no inside knowledge. I also carry a membership card for my local library and have never been inside the door.

  • barnshee

    So nobody knows?- if everyone keeps stum ? we will never know?

  • Robin Keogh

    I certainly dont but then i cant speak for what others might know

  • chrisjones2

    ” I also carry a membership card for my local library and have never been inside the door.”

    Apparently just like the members of the Historical Society. Even one of the Trustees had no idea that it existed

    You keep telling us that ethically the past doesn’t worry you. Does this stuff in the present?

  • chrisjones2

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

  • chrisjones2

    Do grow up …I said ‘on any basis’

  • chrisjones2

    Shapps is an MP

    Dorgan is a Member of the Seanad Éireann

    Kearney is ????

    Is he paid from public funds?

  • barnshee

    SF (and others) “cant speak” won`t speak?

  • barnshee

    “Is he paid from public funds?”

    Of course he is —what other employment/profession would he enter?

  • barnshee

    Barry McElduff AND Jude Collins ?? ahahahahahah

  • chrisjones2

    By the way have we any visibility on what the good people of Derry think of the huge illegal dump on their doorstep – possibly now the largest in Europe?


    The report into this at


    said that it “the hallmarks of organised crime involvement”. and our Environment Minister promised a decision by early 2014, although what that will actually amount to is still unclear.

    So what will the impact of the clean up operation be on the Stormont Budget. Figures of £50m – £100m are being bandied about – that’s a lot of welfare payments and hip operations and teachers but I don’t hear any screeching about that

    Who will pay? I know its a stupid question but we will

    And are questions not being asked about what organised rime group did this and put at risk a large part of the population? Where did all the profits go? Whose pockets were richly lined? Or as they are oursuns organised criminals, does that not really matter?

  • chrisjones2

    “Rate relief is a recognition of the fact that these organisations provide services that have a net saving to the taxpayer, employ staff, train and upskill volunteers etc. ”

    So is there a central record of who these organisations are? For example do they include:

    * the Orange Order
    * Football Clubs
    * Political Groups
    * Churches
    * Historical Societies

    Should all these organisations be able to freeload on the rates?

  • OneNI

    Kearney et al just dont get it. SF have 0.6% of the vote. They dont get to dictate UK public expenditure

  • murdockp

    total nonsense. the privaled sector does all the above x 10. it gets worse we now have charities moving into the new goods space competing against you’ve guessed it, the private sector.

    charity shops are a scourge newry has thirty of them

  • murdockp

    should farmers be able to freeloader. they pay no rates

  • aquifer

    SFDUP ducking hard decisions while gathering more votes. ‘On the run’ from accountability, the treasury should not bale these sectarian opportunists out.

  • Ciarán

    My bad… I meant the Lynton Crosby, you could mention also mention chief of staff like Jonathan Powell. Dorgan is no longer in the Seanad. Fact is, as a SF voter I’m very happy to have as strong a team as possible negotiate on my behalf. That leaves you howling at the moon, as ever.

  • OpenGoal

    If you think the private sector can provide hospice services, cancer, cardiac or Parkinson’s nurses or outreach and support to vulnerable children (as a small example) better than the charitable sector, good luck to you. That function is why they receive rate relief – they provide services which have a clear social value.

    As for charity shops, everyone wants to see a balanced and thriving high street. But given NI’s vacancy rate is rising (16.4% according to a quick google), the question remains – remove them and then what happens? More boarded up shops. The decline of the high street is far more complex than simply blaming the charity sector – out of town shopping white elephants and internet shopping have had a far more damaging effect.

    As for new goods…

    “A charity shop would not have to pay rates if they sell only donated goods. However if they also sell goods bough wholesale the valuation of the property will be apportioned between the two uses.

    Charitable Exemption is a complicated subject and it may be advisable to seek independent professional advice.”

    But then again new goods represent a pretty small proportion of what charities sell. Aside from cards, it’s usually tat like charity branded keyrings. What dastardly organisations.

  • OpenGoal
  • SeaanUiNeill

    Not only do they pay no rates, they get farm payment subsidies! But the real scandal is that members of their families used to purchase small holdings of land, get a farm number and pull in subsidies for farm land they might never have seen from one year to the next let out conacre to a real local farmer while the “farmer” held down areal job at, say, Bombardier. Everyone used to be in on the scam until some EEC changes ensured that the land was actually farmed and not simply let out. Now the local family member who actually farms has to look in on the absentees sheep (easiest to keep) in order for them to continue to qualify. But the farm payment system is still milked to the full.

    The one bright spark is that while DARD (and the planning department) seem to accept this very loose definition of what a “farmer” actually might be, HMRC assume for purposes of levying death duties that someone simply raking in such payments is not actually a “farmer” and does not qualify for non payment of death duties on farmland passed on in a will. It’s a pity that DARD are not as careful!

  • murdockp

    Not true there are a broad mix of charities, private sector, government agencies and social enterprises providing all the support referred to above. Charities are not the be all and end all here, most are set up to create jobs for the management team and workers and offer nothing to the intended purpose of the charity. They are a scourge in the ROI and have made national news with bad practices.

    Sormont does not want to see a thriving high street or they would reduce rates. That is the reason why the shops are boarded up and because landlords are liable for 50% rates, shove a charity shop in there are rates are gone.

    LPS have confirmed to me that they have not levied rates on charities shops selling new goods and this is something ministers need to make sure happens.

    The whole high street debacle needs some on with common sense to do the right thing.

  • barnshee

    “Advisers” usually keep their trap shut– unless of course they are trying to raise their profile for a bigger slice of the (taxpayer funded) cake

  • chrisjones2

    Strange to say that in the announcements today there is no figure for the cut in the NI Block Grant. Scotland loses £160m

  • chrisjones2

    “which would then have to be picked up by the state”

    or just not provdied …shock horror!!!

  • chrisjones2

    But DARD is the Department for farmers …so poisoning the land, killing off horse mussels with run off effluent etc is all OK

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Department for those simply owning farm land, actually. The only damage most of the scammers do is to our pockets……..

  • Ian James Parsley

    I should emphasise that I don’t particularly advocate raising £1b of revenue, and I absolutely do not speak for the Alliance Party or anyone else.

    What frustrates me is that MLAs are allowed to get away with the line they are opposed to “austerity” (public spending reductions) without then being challenged on the obvious point that they are the ones imposing austerity by refusing to raise revenue (and tackle segregation).

    There is not a single MLA who can legitimately say they are “anti-austerity”. If they were, they would advocate raising £1b in revenue to “protect the vulnerable” and probably also saving £1b in segregation to re-allocate to “front-line services”.

    In other words, the choice is simple: leave household taxes and charges low and get on with what you have; or raise them and increase public spending. There is a legitimate debate to be had, but that is the choice – and I have to say the media are failing too by letting MLAs deny it.

  • Trevorabh

    IIRC Stranmillis drew up a paper on the merging of the colleges with Queens that was “leaked” a couple of weeks after the St Mary’s protests.

    Let’s face it, St Mary’s want to be “different” and they want the rest of us to pay for their different ethos. Same goes for the CCMS schools.

    On a personal level, I would be delighted to see true integration where non-Catholic teachers can be employed in CCMS primary schools. However, they can’t through the discriminatory Certificate of Religious Education, that marks out Prods, non-believers, Jews, Hindus and Muslims as unwanted.

    Sir James Casement’s tunes on his old golden flute today wrongly fingered Presbyterians as the divisive influence in education, without realising that all the Churches played their part and continue to play their part at either macro- (sector) or micro- (board of governor) level.

    As it stands, cuts need to be made. Stranmillis, St Mary’s and Queen’s School of Education should be either told to amalgamate in the short term or face removal of funding from DEL (and successor department). CCMS should be told to integrate fully into the EA system, alongside Integrated and Controlled, or have a reduced allocation of funding, perhaps based upon a percentage similar to the amount of time spent on religious instruction.

    Stick time is required for these wastees of precious resources.

  • Skibo

    Seaan most farmers will tell you they would prefer no subsidies and just pay what it takes to produce the food and give a living while working seven days a week..

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed, and I’m entirely with them on that. And I do not criticise any serious person working up to 16 hours a day to attempt to make a living out of farm land every day of the week. My own extended family have members who seriously farm down on the border, and I know the life well.

    Of course you’re right and I’ve not been as clear as I should have been in my bigger posting about the fact that I’m not intending to smear all farmers with the gross misdeeds of some people who abuse the subsidy system. What I’m enraged at are those freeloaders who until recently bought land, rented it out conacre for the highest rent they could squeeze, and got farm payments on top of that while doing virtually nothing beyond supervising someone cutting the hedgerows. Anyone living in the country has met them, men who do no farm work whatsoever but rake in subsidies. Also, the children of farmers who buy land that is “maintained” with as little effort as possible simply to qualify for farm payments. These abuses are still quite widespread. If subsidies are paid out they should go to the deserving farmers you describe who are scraping a living, not people living in Holywood who are already earning around 80,000 a year from full time civil service jobs and who look for an extra top up from subsidies paid out simply because they have applied for a farm number and own farmland.

  • Skibo

    100% behind you there but unfortunately the price of land is now out of the range of those who want to farm. People with large sums of money in the bank can invest it in farmland so not incurring tax while its value increases beyond interest rates quoted by banks.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    As I know only too well. I was outbid on twenty acres around my present house fifteen years ago by someone who does not actually farm, and the land prices have leapt since then. Part of the pressure driving up prices is the very ability of non-farmers to claim farm payments. Even companies can do this, and any reasonably successful business has considerably more access to loans than most struggling farmers.

    The rates and tax issues were intended to help serious farmers, as was the right of a farmer to pass on land without death duties. Both of these are shamelessly used by both individuals and companies as tax scams nowadays. A regularisation of the definition of “farmer”, where the HMRC definition as settled in court (2009 as I remember) if applied by DARD, would iron out some of these abuses, but I do not see it entering practice any time soon. In the meanwhile real farming flounders amid these abuses.