Ó Muilleoir has a huge opportunity to reshape the economics of Nationalism & Northern Ireland

Mairtín Ó Muilleoir is the first Nationalist MLA to hold an economic brief for 14 years and the first from Sinn Fein.

Our new Finance Minister has only been in the Assembly for two years, but now he has a real opportunity to do something for his party and wider nationalism.

For years, I have heard on shows from Nolan to Talkback pundits saying Nationalists just don’t really do economics. We have the enthusiasm and the idealism, but not much in terms of hard economic facts. Much of the time this has been fair comment as politicians have been tripped up over numbers and the ability to develop a coherent economic narrative.

Now,  Ó Muilleoir has the chance has Finance Minister to show that economic competence is not the preserve of the DUP and wider Unionism.

I have heard some pundits over the last day talk about the challenges facing him, but I think that one persons challenge, can another persons opportunity to break out with new thinking and new insights.

John Manley reported this morning that Mairtin has some bad news coming his way and further economic news out shows that Northern Ireland has the lowest disposable income in the UK.

These are challenges that will have to be tackled and if Mairtin plays his cards right, these problems can be his opportunity to redefine how Nationalists approach government in Northern Ireland. He can use bad news, to make the case to his Executive colleagues and his party that following the status quo is not an option anymore. There is a powerful quartet there in Simon Hamilton, Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness, who can push economic reforms forward.

Northern Ireland in essence needs a leaner and faster government. When I interviewed him over a year ago, he identified that these issues are a problem at Stormont. Now, he is in an opportune position to actually change this. Chris Donnelly has rightly identified the frustration within Nationalism is not that their representatives are not left wing enough, it’s the lack of delivery.

Reforms are difficult, yes he will likely have to introduce cuts. But again, if he cuts were needed and spends wisely, he can be a Finance Minister that can boast of genuine growth and halting the slide of economy.

Since 2007, Northern Ireland has largely had play it safe Finance Ministers, who have been cautious and in some respects unimaginative when it came to reforming our government and how we raise money for it.

With no SDLP & UUP opposing from within, no elections on the horizon and a new First Minister with enormous political capital, this Minister can really do things, if he is so minded.

The only thing he can do to squander this is try to and fight a rear-guard action that places more focus on the Treasury and fight battles that were settled at the 2015 election. Mairtin needs to show that he understands the problems and has a credible solution for them.

This minister has more opportunities than challenges ahead, he can help rebrand his party and wider Nationalism as managers of the economy, but more importantly he could help turn around our economic prospects.

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs