In three months, the Assembly elections will give voters the chance to have their say on who will sit in Stormont for the next five years. At this point, it’s worth reflecting on what has (and hasn’t) been achieved by the current Executive. Use the comments to have your say and add anything (good or bad) that hasn’t made this list.
1: Integrated Education – The signatories of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 pledged “to facilitate and encourage integrated education”, yet by 2014/15 only 7% of pupils in Northern Ireland were taught in integrated schools. The total number of pupils in grant-maintained and controlled integrated schools increased from 14,140 in 2000/1 to 17,558 in 2005/6 but only to 21,956 by 2014/15.
2: Flags, Parades and the Past – United States Special Envoy Richard Haas was dispatched to Stormont in the winter of 2013 to find a deal to deal once and for all with these contentious issues. On New Year’s Eve, Dr Haas was on a flight back to the States and two years on, very little has been resolved. By November 2015, the policing bill for Camp Twaddell, a protest against restrictions on Orange Order parades, had hit £18.5 million.
If this is what the Haas talks were like no wonder they failed. #bbctheview
— Ann Allan (@apallan) February 27, 2014
3: Maze/Long Kesh – Former DUP leader Peter Robinson called a halt to plans to redevelop the former prison site in August 2013. The project had promised 5,000 permanent on-site jobs and investment of £300 million. Last year deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he was determined the development would go ahead but without Executive agreement, the plans will remain dead in the water.
4: Casement Park – The project to build a new GAA stadium in west Belfast was held up after a group of residents, opposed to some aspects of the development, won a legal challenge. Later concerns over emergency exits led to a Stormont inquiry. The stadium was due to have been completed by September 2015. By then £6 million had been spent on the project and construction work hadn’t even started.
A whole canning factory of worms is getting loose at the DCAL committee which is examining the Casement Park fiasco.
— JPCampbellBiz (@JP_Biz) April 30, 2015
5: Manufacturing Industry – It’s been a bad 18 months for the industry with major job losses. The closure of the Michelin tyre factory saw 860 jobs terminated and there were also 800 redundancies after JTI Gallagher closed a factory in 2014. Digger giant Caterpillar cut 100 jobs in November as Unite the Union warned the industry was in ‘crisis’.
6: Transfer Test – For many of us, the 11+ was stressful enough on its own but this year one young girl from Glengormley sat five different test papers to maximise her choice of schools. The AQE exam, used by controlled grammars, consists of three papers while the GL exam, used by Catholic maintained schools, consists of two. The Sinn Fein run Department of Education abolished academic selection and the 11+ in 2008 but schools have since adopted independent tests.
7: Waiting Lists – The Health Department’s budget gets regular top-ups of left over cash from the Executive but hospital waiting lists just keep getting longer. The department’s own target is for no-one to wait longer than 18 weeks for a first outpatient appointment. Of the people waiting for that first appointment, 18.4% waited more than 18 weeks at the end of September 2014. By September 2015, 47.6%, that’s 109,721 people, were kept waiting for more than 126 days.
— neil dougan (@neildougan) July 23, 2015
8: Expenses Scandal – In October 2014, details of questionable expenses claims by MLAs at Stormont were uncovered by the BBC’s Spotlight programme. Sinn Fein MLAs had claimed nearly £700,000 for research over ten years from a company run by the party’s finance managers. Former DUP MLA William Hay was also under the spotlight after his office claimed £4,000 for heating oil in one year.
It isn’t all bad news though. The Executive attracted some of the world’s top cyclists to the country for the launch of the Giro d’Italia in 2014 and the British Open golf competition will return to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951. Now that a deal has been agreed on welfare reform, capital funding has been secured for the A5 road between Belfast and Derry/Londonderry as well as the A6 between Belfast and Dublin. Regional rates have been frozen in real terms for the sixth year in a row. While from 2017, businesses will receive a boost as the corporation tax level is to be cut. After a series of crises, the fact the Executive is still (almost fully) intact is quite an achievement after five turbulent years of government.