Nothing demonstrates the zero gravity of NI politics more than the nationalist reaction to the Evason report. The SDLP who fought a rearguard action on welfare cuts welcomed it even though it contains for the first time, time bound benefits.
They reason that she has implemented some of the measures they proposed but were blocked by joint Sinn Fein and DUP action.
Sinn Fein on the other hand have said nothing, except to put out this presser (under the bylines of both Ray McCartney and Alex Maskey) attacking Alex Attwood for supporting Evason but not supporting the SF/DUP budget.
Newton Emerson rather pointedly notes that these proposals break Sinn Fein’s promise (made after disowning the Stormont House Agreement) that no one would lose out as a result of any proposals it would put its name to.
…proposes phasing the impact of reforms in for most of those affected by offering them a year of supplementary payments, at a cost to Stormont over the next four years of £500m.
The main beneficiaries will be carers, people with health problems and low-income families.
But however this is dressed up and whatever it is called, these claimants face a drop in their benefits after a fixed period even if there is no change in their circumstances, which in practice is a time limit.
The professor had to deal with constraints artificially imposed upon her by OFMdFM’s long budgetary drift. But introducing the principle of time limited benefits allows Sinn Fein to burn these claimants only after it safely negotiates the next Assembly election in May rather than before.
As Emerson also points out the British system in all practical terms hasn’t use deadlines in Welfare legislation. When one benefit runs out there is generally another that kicks in.
It may not be fair to characterise this as Welfare to Work , but the novel principle of timebound benefit tapering has been introduced in sleepy post conflict Northern Ireland. It’s a politically weird outcome to this long round of stop/start negotiations.
As Newton asks at the end of his column: “Does anyone have the nerve to confront what that implies?” Well for now, no. And the zero gravity abides.
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