The continuing welfare impasse shows that peace will survive the suspension of the Assembly

On the surface at least, few outside the place are noticing. The public seem to be ignoring it, as if in a dream. Civil society stays generally schtum, like jobsworths in the old Soviet society. The parties are crying for attention. Gerry Adams has been polishing up his narrative of entitlement

“By slashing hundreds of millions of pounds from the finances of the North’s Executive, the British government has attacked the ability of the political institutions to deliver for citizens.”

Mr Adams added that over many decades, successive British governments invested “limitless financial resources to pursue a military agenda” in Northern Ireland.

“They now need to bring a similar commitment to building the peace. A new approach is required from the British government – one based on investment, which would allow the political institutions to grow and develop the economy for the benefit of all our citizens.”

A fundamental question of our time is this. How special is Northern Ireland, sixteen years after the GFA? It took time for the DUP to realise that the era of Downing St sofa government was over. Sinn Fein still try to play the White House card which Arlene Foster contemptuously dismisses.

Brian Feeney in the Irish News has a different narrative which swipes in both directions.

Nothing substantial has been done since Peter Robinson reneged on his agreement for a Reconciliation Centre at the Maze in August 2013.

It’s pretty clear Robinson could not push through the provisions in the Stormont House Agreement on victims, the past and parades against his dissidents. He failed in 2010 and there’s no sign anything has improved.

( Sinn Féin) have lost direction. They’ve forgotten their raison d’etre in the north. Flying to Washington about welfare funding is piddling stuff. No one in the party is articulating how to advance their fundamental aim, Irish unity. Instead there is monthly waffle about reconciliation and ‘uncomfortable conversations’ to which not a single unionist politician responds or ever will.

The old tactics are looking past their sell-by date. Even “the fundamental aim” is looking jaded. The public are less and less responsive when the familiar buttons are pressed.  Peace has exponentially reduced Sinn Fein’s leverage. The DUP never possessed the same clout in loyalist communities . With the aim of uniting unionism looking more distant than ever, the DUP remain vulnerable to challenge in the loyalist streets.

Peace gave them all the chance of re-ordering the priorities away from the politics of symbolism to substance. So far they’ve largely blown it. So how special is Northern Ireland now? It is easy and entirely fair to dismiss Adams’ case as special pleading. But there are real issues of poverty and welfare that are not addressed by the UK government’s narrative of economic progress. Cameron is sticking to the line that  the Troubles legacy was specifically acknowledged by the £2 billion package of the Stormont House Agreement which Sinn Fein endorsed and then denounced. This was not the move of a party in control of its strategy, It was another example of the economic illiteracy of a political class with too little to say beyond the politics of identity.

The impasse has echoes of the Greek crisis.  In a month or so we may expect something more than stonewalling from the British government. But not much. If Stormont was to show a little wiling, Westminster should  further ease the terms of the payback for the “fines” for failing to pass a balanced budget.

The Conservative government seem determined to face down the challenge of nationalism in Scotland and Northern  Ireland in the interests of creating a smaller  state and rebalancing the economy.  If it comes to it, they are acting in he belief that Northern Ireland will withstand a suspension of the Assembly and a regrouping  for next May’s elections. The Irish government – and probably Fianna Fail – who have their own not dissimilar  ” austerity” agendas – will  gulp and agree. The parties are no longer fundamental to what is still termed  “the peace process.”

That is not to say that Westminster can afford to nothing but tough it out.  Beyond a conditional promise to devolve corporation tax to a rate  below  the newly lowered UK rate,  they  have yet to explain how rebalancing would quickly  compensate  for Northern  Ireland’s  uniquely high public spending.  Sinn Fein, lacking the competence  to debate on economic terms, prefers to beat the old drum that stood them so well in the early days of  peace. But today is different. They were given no mandate to withdraw from Stormont in such a situation. The public silence is deafening. Sinn Fein are in the unfamiliar position of being  forced to weigh the consequences of united condemnation by the British and Irish establishments and the abdication of responsibility to the people who elected them.

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  • barnshee

    Fear not– SF have advertised for an economist all will be revealed shortly

  • james

    An economics expert, with at least pidgin Irish, who will nonetheless toe the party line on economics?? Crikey o reilly….that will require a very great deal of psychological flexibility! And indeed a keenly developed sense of self-preservation, given the Republican tendency to bury what the leadership rules to be unwelcome news…..and all for the average industrial wage, presumably as determined by said economist ….. Hmmm …watch this space…

  • chrisjones2

    “By slashing hundreds of millions of pounds from the finances of the North’s Executive, the British government has attacked the ability of the political institutions to deliver for citizens.”

    …… but you are totally focused on one narrow sector of citizens ….the unemployed and unemployable. What about the rest who are in work – ie the majority

    “invested “limitless financial resources to pursue a military agenda” in Northern Ireland”

    …..yeah and that was all their fault Gerry while your mates murdered and destroyed

    The reality is that London does not and should not care if the Assembly falls on its face. They are sensibly saying its a matter for local politicians. And if it does collapse they should immediately pull the funding plug on expenses and MLA salaries

  • chrisjones2

    Robin…where are you Robin?

  • chrisjones2

    ….but in a recent Derry case in court they dont get any wage …they are forced on live on benefits as all their ‘salaries’ are paid direct to the party that keeps them

  • james

    Thinking on it, I might apply meself. I wonder, would religion or personal politics be any sort of a bar?

  • james

    Aye, but an economist would hardly get away with claiming, on his honour, not to be able to understand the rules on claiming government assistance.

  • eac1968

    The more that our ‘politicians’ are tasked with dealing with ordinary issues, the clearer it becomes that doing so is completely beyond them. They must always revert to the language (and thinking) of conflict, because they are simply not equipped to function in a normalised political environment. So when their limited intellects prevent them from devising strategies to mitigate the financial difficulties facing the whole country, they think that pretending the issues don’t exist will make them go away. They’re at about the same intellectual level as the 2 year old kid who thinks that because he closes his eyes, no-one can see him. Maybe if they pretend really really hard, someone will find the extra money somewhere?

  • chrisjones2

    We really need one of those ‘nanny’ reality TV shows where the foreign nanny (US?) arrives to show the incompetent parents where they have done wrong and makes the children sit on the naughty step while she uses the dreaded word “NO”

  • murdockp

    Northern Ireland is indeed a special case. It is a socialist / communist oddity located UK which is essentially a liberal capitalist country.
    For me it is no surprise that our economy stutters along whilst the UK economy grows, the Northern Ireland politicians and civil servants have basically frozen our economy with their protectionist politics and a system of administration that stifles business at every turn.
    The NI Assembly has more than enough money in it coffers to run NI well, the problem we have is they refuse to cut their numbers, cut their salaries and outsource services to the private sector.
    The amount of money wasted is staggering.
    The Assembly should be disbanded for the good of NI.

  • murdockp

    I don’t care if it collapses and I live here.

  • chrisjones2

    Me too…it would be a blessing and relief

  • chrisjones2

    Have you ever met an economist?

    “well on one hand …..but on the other ………….”

  • james

    If I may paraphrase one of the boys, “Will anyone here really object if, with a bogus expenses claim in one hand and an iffy JSA claim in the other, we ourselves take, take, take……”

  • Redstar2014

    The Assembly has become a total embarrassment . Its simply now a by- word for unaccountability , alleged serious misappropriation , inaction and unending farce. Ffs scrap it!!!!

  • chrisjones2

    …and the C word that nobody dares use

  • chrisjones2

    …followed by decommissioning 80p% of the civil service in a way that stops the contracts being awarded to ‘mates’

  • Dan

    Why, has economics genius Chris Hazzard left?

  • Dan

    If it does collapse, can someone ensure that some of the invaluable advice offered on the NIDirect website is retained..

  • Turgon

    The only part I might disagree with here is that for years, quite possibly from the very start of the terrorist ceasefires “peace” was going to survive in the medium term (in the longer term this sort of ethnic conflict albeit with ethnic differences tends to wax and wane over the centuries without any “final solution”).

    The problem is that SF have very little to offer as a bargaining chip. They cannot realistically go back to the armed struggle and mass protests etc. are likely to be a bit of a dam squib.

    Furthermore the British Government is not demanding anything desperately radical. It is asking that NI have the same welfare reforms which have been accepted in the rest of the UK (with a few tweaks and are willing to offer a few tweaks). If the government caved in to SF they would find it difficult to drive through the changes in the rest of the UK even England.

    As such there is pain for the government if they give in.

    In contrast NI is actually no bigger in governance terms than a large English metropolitan area. Hence, it does not actually need its own government to survive: we saw this after Stormont was prorouged and on that occasion it was comparatively much more difficult for the government.

    The reality is simple. Either we will be administered like any other region of the UK with Westminster largely setting the budget and we get to spend the money (we could even make some by increasing rates etc.) or we can be governed like most regions of England: directly by Whitehall with some local council input. That second option is against the current tide of history in the UK with devolution to the different constituent parts of the state (and even against the proposals to devolve more power to the north of England) but is a perfectly do-able option.

  • Zig70

    Omg, what a joke
    More ways to keep cool indeed. Sammy was right.

  • murdockp

    increase rates? we already pay between 20% and 500% (five hundred percent) more than comparable UK properties.

    a house in NI which pays £1,500 per annum in Ni pays £800 in the UK. a small business in NI can pay £5k per annum whilst in the UK is totally exempt.

    any more rates raised will destroy what remains of our already destroyed towns.

  • paulgraham7567

    Don’t thing Gerry is an MP, so taking his seat at Westminster may prove problematic. Check your facts.

  • Gopher

    It is beyond doubt that the utility of a return to direct rule would be widely welcomed. Westminister can apply government backed by popular referendum on us. Gay Marriage, Integrated education, Abortion and various other reforms can be sorted out by referendum. The Assembly will not be missed as one after another the logjams that the assembly was incapbale of sorting out are sorted out by the public themselves.

  • chrisjones2

    See …I told you so

  • barnshee

    Sadly wrong -a one bedroom flat in Walthamstow pays twice as much as a semi in – Ballymoney I have experience of both.

  • Reader

    I suspect murdockp’s argument depends on the Walthamstow flat costing more than the Ballymoney semi, which messes up his argument and your counter argument.
    I just did a quick check against Brighton. For a house of the same price as mine, I would pay 10% more rates in Brighton. But if my house was teleported to a similar site in Brighton, it would be ‘worth’ 4 times as much, and suddenly my rates look cheap in comparison.
    A hopeless comparison.

  • barnshee

    UK council tax is in bands with rates based on value- the same as in NI
    Houses in NI are worth less –generally– than houses in GB –rates are thus generally less in NI the GB. Comparing like for like a dwelling in NI will pay significantly less than the equivalent dwelling in GB