Full Steam Ahead, Arlene and Martin.

Michael Shaw is a Chair for the Ulster University Young Democrats. He is also a central executive member of the Democratic Unionist Party and one of the regional group leaders for Leave.EU in Northern Ireland.

“If you keep voting for the DUP and Sinn Fein, nothing will change.” A phrase I often hear from cynical politicos and commentators alike and a phrase I’m sure you have heard too.

Well, let’s look at what has happened under the DUP and Sinn Fein, accepting the other Executive parties’ narrative that they are not in the same executive when in reality they are.

The DUP and SF lead executive has provided free travel on public transport for everyone over 60. A scheme which is the most generous in the whole of the UK, something that could only be achieved through Stormont. In fact there’s now over 60,000 smart-passes in circulation and 5 1/2 million free journeys have been made since the scheme was started. There’s 20% discount on rates to every person over 70 living alone, free prescriptions for everyone in Northern Ireland and there’s no water charges. With special concessions for Northern Ireland on welfare obtained in the hard earned Fresh Start Agreement there’s no doubt that the Assembly is delivering more for the most vulnerable in our society than what we would see under direct rule.

But we haven’t only safeguarded and protected vulnerable people, Northern Ireland is a place barely recognisable to someone who grew up in the Troubles and a place magnificently different to the one I grew up in even during the 90s. We have record levels of employment, record levels of international investment, University students here are graduating nearly £20,000 better off than their English and Welsh counterparts and with corporation tax set to be devolved, the obstacle to growth of having a higher rate of tax than the Republic will be consigned to the history books and we’ll see an even higher level of inward investment, jobs, growth and exciting new industries.

Of course, we still have a long way to go in terms of balancing the economy. Years of violence halted private sector growth and we have a bloated public sector but we are moving in the right direction. Who would have thought one of the biggest if not the biggest television show in the world would be made right here in Northern Ireland? Things could be better, they always can be, but they would be a hell of a lot worse without Stormont.

It would be wrong for me not to address the fact that there’s two sworn enemies sharing power on the hill. Critics often point to that as enough to denounce the place as dysfunctional without actually going into much detail. The fact that it is these two sworn enemies working together for the greater good is why we have seen the longest period of stable government in Northern Ireland since the start of the Troubles. The fact that the “two extremes” or the two poles of political opinion in Northern Ireland are represented and taken into account is the reason we have that stability. If others took decisions with complete disregard to often marginalised, disenfranchised and impoverished Loyalist and Republican communities it’s safe to say Stormont wouldn’t have stood the test of time and the flag protests would have seemed like a walk in the park.

Some people seem to forget that we had a violent conflict over these issues. I don’t live with any desire to engage in violent conflict over those issues but I remember that refusing to recognise and at least pay homage to people’s deeply held allegiances is quite literally a recipe for disaster.

Rather than disregarding Loyalist and Republican communities and slamming the pedal to the metal as if they were not there, it’s the representatives within Sinn Fein and the DUP who hold their hands up and say; Wait, Stop, Hold on, Be careful; when others are happy to move along at their own pace without regard for those who are not so happy with that pace.

Whether it is the DUP’s successful blocking of the Irish Language Act or Sinn Fein’s strong stance on loyal parades, Stormont offers the arena for these disagreements to be dealt with in a democratic and rational manner. You can debate all day about who has been the biggest winner and who has been the biggest winner but the reality is we’ve managed to confine that debate to solely democratic means and whilst it’s still an issue for many within the electorate and at Stormont, it’s an issue that is now resolved solely via the ballot box and gift of the gab and not with “an armalite in one hand and ballot box in another.”

So far no-one, and I mean no-one, has actually come up with any credible, rational or even reasonable proposals to reform Stormont in such a way that would address many, if any, of the alleged problems at Stormont.

Earlier I quoted what is a commonplace argument from opponents – “If you keep voting for the DUP and Sinn Fein, nothing will change.”? I think I have my answer for this May – “Dead on. DUP 123, Thank you.”

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  • Turgon

    A very interesting piece for two reasons.

    Firstly the levels of sustained optimism that the farce which is Stormont and its inability to make significant decisions is a positive.

    The second issue is that it suggests that Stormont is necessary to prevent return to the violent conflict of the past. That is to buy into the Sinn Fein (and alphabet soup) narrative that there was something so wrong with Northern Ireland that somehow the Troubles were inevitable maybe even necessary.

    That leaves Mr. Shaw at variance with the vast majority of the population of Northern Ireland of all political viewpoints throughout the Troubles and since- not maybe a majority on slugger but a minority in real Northern Ireland. That a leading young member of the DUP has bought into that analysis is worrying – as is his excessively rosy view of the farce on the hill. If this is the view of the past and present from a leading young DUP leader, one is led to worry about the future.

  • Gopher

    All the executive has spent other peoples money and wasted most of it. People have came up with a suggestion, one the politicians wont implement. Put issues like Abortion, Integrated Education, Gay Marriage etc on the ballot and have a referendum on them. If the answer is positive Stormont has to implement the will of the people.

  • chrisjones2

    Dont confuse stability with stasis waste and pork barrel politics where only those in the know get the cash. Stopping themuns isnt a strategy for the future

  • aquifer

    Waiting for the next sectarian riot or paramilitary stunt is not my idea of progress.

  • Brendan Heading

    If the objective of this article was to try to outline that the government has very little to show for its 8 years in office, I think it was successful.

    Even the bus pass scheme, which given its pride of place at the top of the article is evidently thought of in some circles as some kind of crowning achievement, was – if I recall correctly – introduced first under the UUP/SDLP Executive when the DUP held the DRD ministry.

    The other achievements noted in the same paragraph focus on the Executive’s decisions not to ask Northern Ireland’s middle class to contribute to funding our regional government. I am not in any way a “vulnerable person”, yet the Executive’s low-tax approach benefits me substantially at the expense of public services, including public transport and hospital care. I’m not at all sure this is a record to be bragging about.

  • What does it say that ‘free bus passes’ becomes the crowning glory of local government policy. Really? Not free prescriptions?

  • StevieG

    As part of this haiography of how great and magnanimous the DUP have been in the executive and in deigning to lead us, do not forget the tax on the pastic bags (not sure you can clim that though).
    Thanks for the whitewash of dysfunction and tribal power grabs – you almost make it sound like the DUP care about those ‘loyalist’ areas with low educational attainment and aspiration. Not sure that is what would be deifned as your core vote.
    What we have in Stormont is a bunch of anachronstic parties who were bought off as part of the ‘peace process’ and foisted on the NI populace under the thinly veilled pretence of being a democracy with money, pardons and favours thrown in to grease the way – I (like I think a lot of people) accept this (for now) as a means to an end (but not without a bitter taste in the mouth) when we have a more reflective executive and legislature truely looking at the issues in areas being left behind – got to start with education and widening the opportunities for learining and communication – not marching, cultural ‘rights’, or spinning on ‘victimhood’.
    All you are arguing for here is that Stormont is great beacuse the DUP and SF can block each other but sure we can talk about it in some chamber. I guess the implication is that the alternative is a return to violence which I find a huge leap in logic and incredibly improbable.
    Truely, you shoud look at a measure of effectiveness per MLA/cost (to take into account the very generous budget for SPADs and parties). I’m not sure if any index as such exists, but right now, I would posit that we would not score high on this or demonstrate any value that suggests we are better for having Stormont on the basis of your argument.
    I would say Stormont is required until we can get rid of it (or at least the parties and individuals that benefit drectly from it) but lets not pretend it is doing anything useful.

  • Proud non voter

    As Stormont looks to the future and refuses almost to look backwards, what has been the changing and forward moving achievements in education, healthcare and employment? – Some key tools to a prosperous and healthy current and future population.

    Considering Northern Ireland is a state within the United Kingdom, our educational achievements should be compared to countries outside of the UK as opposed to merely England and Wales.

    I would also ask what has been done to curb the exodus of people leaving our shores for jobs and better prospects elsewhere? Would that be the growing employment you speak of in – call centres? An economy built on call centres. That’s one worth talking about, never mind the over inflated public sector.

    Lets talk about current health care waiting lists, long term mental health problems suffered by those who served in the troubles and the lack of investment and care shown towards mental health in general.

    Let’s discuss the money our milk farmers are making, the 2 manufacturing plants closing in Ballymena, the continued struggle of shorts bros, the increase in numbers flying world wide from Dublin and also into Dublin to do business as opposed to in and out of Belfast and NI to do their business, the increasing scourge of drug use among our youth, how Free Prescriptions has made us a world leader in Prescription dependency issues!
    The increasing scourge of alcohol upon society, the number of broken homes and to be honest a completely broken society in general that the dup think can be fixed with a pill from their free prescription service washed down with a glass of free tap water! (this offer is not available in England, Scotland or Wales).

    What has Stormont really done to genuinely improve these issues minus the sugar coating we read above? Is it not more worrying that a working population may struggle to pay for critical things like prescription drugs and water? But instead of addressing why that might be, we will just bluff it and disguise it as a freebie!

    When the DUP, Sinn Fein and the rest of you come back with a fair and really genuine progressive reason to vote, I may reconsider my stance as a proud non voter but to me right now, all I can see is that the majority of politicians here are only in the house on the hill for their own personal gain and wealth.

  • scepticacademic

    Yeah, it’s all going great. Well, apart from the funding crisis in the university sector (courses closing, places cut), the service crisis in the NHS, the weakest economic recovery of any UK region and next to zero progress on longer-run issues like ‘community’ division, low educational attainment in working class communities, non-employment, public sector reform and economic productivity/competitiveness. Get the red-white-blue / green-white-gold (delete as appropriate) bunting out!

  • Granni Trixie

    Last year we heard that the DUP do not behave – what to me is- like professionals: that they do not for nstance bid SF colleagues the time of day (literally) should they pass them in the corridors,do not get into a lift if a SF person Is in it.
    These signs of disrespect are consistent with “curry my yoghurt” language.

    And though I may seem to be making a petty point about rude behaviour I believe that a change in these tactics would show that the DUP are trying to have productive relationships with their partners. You don’t have to like the people you work with you just have to act professionally which means being good mannered.

    This would be a start to changing the political culture which after all Arlene Foster specified she wanted to achieve.

  • Karl

    Full steam ahead until SF become the largest party. The unionist psyche will not accept a SF First Minister – irrespective of the equality of the roles.
    Then unionist withdrawl from Stormont, a quick chat with Downing Street followed by feelers to FG party headquarters. 5, 10, 15 years time – who knows but just like the greedy sheep farmer, they aren’t for sharin.
    Stormonts greatest achievements will be free bus rides to the pharmacy before it signs itself out of existence. Not a lot to show for the subsidy.

  • Acrobat_747

    DUP and SF can be described as nothing short of incompetent.

    These parties believe that good governance is simply keeping the assembly functioning like a useless zombie entity. That is all. The list of things they have achieved is nothing short of utterly depressing.

    They have no plans, no vision, no ambition, no determination and no abilities. They are zombie parties.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Yes. That will definitely happen…

  • Kevin Breslin

    No “Marlene” portmanteau yet?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    The author has clearly forgotten that it was a UUP Minister who introduced free prescriptions.

  • murdockp

    The policies you mentioned are bonkers in any case.

    Just because you are over 60 does not make you vunerable, far from it, the new generation of retirees never had it so good, you said it yourself that most of the population was / is public sector employed so that is a lot of people with good pensions and no mortgages on their houses being given bus passes.

    same with prescriptions being given out to people like me who can well afford to pay, why when most people believe they should pay as we all know the great NHS cashpoint is nearly empty? what a waste of resources.

    As for the human trafficking law which is an Orwellian puritan policy to make us all good protestants sipping our Horlicks at night but ignores the workers trapped in restaurant kitchens who really do need help.

    All good politics, but all bad policy

    As for the 12.5% corporation tax rate, hardly parity, the NI rate is a pale watered down rate compared with NI as it only relates to NI profits not globally remitted profits which is what happens in ROI.

    Or on more simple language Apple with pay 12.5% CT in Northern Ireland on the profits generated in their Apple Store in Belfast and that’s it. In the Irish Republic it will pay 12.5% on the profits from the parts of its global business it chooses to remit to the Irish Republic.

    Also ROI has a full blown industrial buildings allowances regime which NI does not have, again hardly parity.

    As far as I can see the NI assembly has ruined our economy due to its distrust of all things private sector. It is spending £2,000 per capita more than the rest of the UK and ROI with no efficiencies in sight, this is not success.

    Lets us look at real statistics of their performance rather than their perceived performance.

  • Karl

    I like to put forward a positive viewpoint unemcumbered by variables or alternatives. Thank you for your support :0o

  • Gopher

    No action on passenger duty means the DUP will not be getting a vote let alone a single transfer from me for abusing my Westminster vote with inaction. The same goes for any of the mainstream parties that do not declare they will go into opposition if they are. not the first or second largest party. I believe that in 2016 the minor parties will benefit from the inescapable fact the executive is useless.

  • barnshee

    As Milton Freedman said -“there is no such thing as a free lunch”

    The “free” bus pass trips -like the “free” prescriptions are paid for by the taxpayer. The Northern Ireland Concessionary Fares Scheme is funded
    and administered by the Department for Regional Development.
    The Scheme currently provides free travel on public transport within Northern Ireland for:OAPS. The current annual cost of providing concessionary fares for senior citizens is £9.7 million. It is estimated that the all island extension will cost an additional £1 million annually

    It is a hidden subsidy to Translink -would the OAPS travel with the same enthusiasm if they had to pay?

  • barnshee

    They could put the fees up to other UK levels – that would open up a few more places.

  • Jag

    “As for the 12.5% corporation tax rate, hardly parity, the NI rate is a pale watered down rate compared with NI as it only relates to NI profits not globally remitted profits which is what happens in ROI.”

    I don’t think that’s correct Murdock

    If Apple does decide to use NI as a tax base, then it can very easily route profits from other jurisdictions through NI – the usual (perfectly legal) wheeze is to provide loans from NI to group operations in other jurisidictions, charge outrageous interest on those loans and have the interest end up in NI. Or intellectual property charges or management charges. That way, you can hover up any profits in high tax jurisdictions and ensure the profit ends up in NI. Though in the case of Apple, they then have a further layer of charges which suck most of the profits out of Ireland and into zero tax jurisdictions.

    Apple comes in for a lot of stick about this, perhaps justifiably.

    But what about your favorite accompaniment to elevenses coffee, a Kit Kat? Kit Kat is made by Nestle. In 2014, Nestle had sales of £1.73bn in the UK. It had operating profits of £142m, With a 21% standard large company tax rate, you’d expect they’d pay around £30m in corporation tax, right?

    Nope, they paid £4m. The reason? Nestle in Luxembourg has loaned £1.62bn to the UK operation and the interest on that loan was deducted from the operating profit sucking most of the profits out of the UK.

    (If and) When NI gets its 12.5% rate, companies operating from NI will be sucking profits from elsewhere, but if you think they’ll pay their full 12.5% in NI, think again, the experience of the ROI is the more aggressive international players will suck it elsewhere.

  • scepticacademic

    the bullet that will have to be bitten eventually, imo. Could also have a look at the regional rate and water charges if they were serious about investing more in education to support some kind of joined-up economic strategy – some chance!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    So, the rates on businesses are extortionate (thereby suffocating the economy), Belfast’s traffic is amongst the worst in these islands (but there’s no money to put on more trains or build train stations in the suburbs or airports), we have a wasteful duplication of services in teacher training (the cure for which is seemingly to throw MORE money at) and a duplication or even triplication of services in the segregated school system?

    BUT we have free bus passes for the over 60’s.

  • murdockp

    Read the legislation. Apple will only pay 12.5% on NI profits.

  • Jag

    There’s detailed legislation? Where?

    Profit generally includes interest income (and management charges income and intellectual property income)

    This is what the Apple NI P&L might look like

    Sales (1 iPhone) £500
    Cost of Sales £200
    Gross Profit £300
    Admin £10
    Operating profit £290
    Interest income from loans to Apple in England £10,000
    Profit before tax £10,290
    Tax at 12.5% ~£1,285

  • murdockp

    read chapter 6 which talks about Northern Ireland profits.
    If you think about it, Westminster does not want to erode its own taxbase with companies moving to NI.
    Exactly the reason for me anyway that is is a damp squib piece of legislation and is a red herring.

  • chrisjones2

    ” human trafficking law” …but it will save your immortal soul might you be seduced by one of those foreign weemin who might not just be a harlot but a Catherlick or a Muslim

  • murdockp

    I agree the parties and individuals in stormont are mostly self serving for personal gain or party ideology.

    Their policies are designed to make sure the poor are kept in a sort of “good quality poverty”. E.g. free pills and a DLA car for example. There are no policies to lift them out of poverty as in time thier voter Base would be destroyed.

    As I said before a sort of Stockholm syndrome where it is the impoverished who keep the elite in power.

  • murdockp

    But we have 5p plastic bags!

  • Brendan Heading

    Unfortunately this isn’t going to make any difference.

    The Irish republic recently introduced a new 6.25% corporation tax on profits connected with R&D activity.

    Apple, and all the other technology companies that are R&D-heavy, will keep their bases in Ireland right where they are.

  • Brendan Heading

    I don’t think the DUP and SF are incompetent at all. Incompetency would suggest that they try, and fail, to do things.

    Most of the time they don’t even bother trying. Many of their decisions are intended to sustain the status quo, whatever that may be.

  • notimetoshine

    Unfortunately I don’t see another way at the moment we are in a best of a bad bunch situation.

    However the author must have had a particularly large glass of the kool aid if he thinks that the SF/DUP government is functioning well or doing its job. Presiding over crises in the health service, lethargic and anaemic economic growth, a shockingly poor and bare legislative record and continued orange/green wrangling is not a record to be proud of.

    “Whether it is the DUP’s successful blocking of the Irish Language Act or Sinn Fein’s strong stance on loyal parades, Stormont offers the arena for these disagreements to be dealt with in a democratic and rational manner.”

    Rational? The last word one would use about DUP and SF politicos. And as for democratic, three words, petition of concern.

  • Proud non voter

    I’ve done it myself for many a years. Gathered my bits and bobs and went off to vote these people into 40k+ a year jobs. Did one of them come near my door 2 years ago when I was unemployed for 6 months? Did they come round my door in general? Na. Did they reply to my recent emails relating to road safety, theft and littering in my local area? No. I’ve lived in 3 separate areas over the past 10-15 years and found the politicians (largely DUP politicians) to be self serving and of poor quality with the exception of Alex Easton -DUP MLA who seemed like a hard worker.
    From a Unionist perspective the DUP threat of a vote for them is to counter Sinn Fein and for the greater good of Northern Ireland, I’m sorry but I don’t by it nor will it influence me. They will say things like they have to share power with Sinn Fein because that’s democracy and they have a mandate. When or if the time comes, will this same DUP accept a majority vote for a United Ireland because it’s been done democratically? YES.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    In fairness, the UUP completely forgot about that too when it came to the election.

  • Alan N/Ards

    If the unionist parties refuse to accept a nationalist party being in the pole position, that is probably the time that a border referendum will be called. The ball will be in their court. Accept the result and get on with it, or a referendum is the only way forward. Could they be that stupid?