I’ve been busy with other things all day, but this is worth hearing your comments on...
The decision to extend the current free school meals scheme was announced last Friday – Northern Ireland is the only region of the UK yet to approve the scheme, with local schools to close for summer next week.
Stormont ministers were to sign off on a £12m package to extend meals for 97,000 vulnerable children on Monday, as well as cash for the health service and local airports.
However, it is reported that none of those decisions made it on to the agenda, reportedly due to arguments over whether funding to set up the Troubles victims’ pension scheme should also be approved.
Now, officially this cannot be confirmed, because all parties concerned are bound by cabinet confidentiality. But it is a party trope of an old date that’s been used several times in the past by Sinn Féin over the devolution of policing, and welfare reform.
It is a classic cake and eat it strategy, not least because there will be opportunities to get this fixed before the kids all go off in their summer holidays at which point the Executive will be allowed to make good on its promises.
Unlike Welfare Reform, they cannot hand it back to the Conservative government since they’ve already been bounced into doing the right thing under public moral pressure exerted by the Man Utd player Marcus Rashford.
So we are entertained by this sort of nonsense emanating from the Sinn Féin Minister of Finance…
Last week Finance Minister Conor Murphy promised the money would be found to cover the summer meals and Education Minister Peter Weir said he would ask for the funding.
But in a statement yesterday Sinn Fein appeared to blame Mr Weir for the delay. The party’s Foyle MLA Karen Mullan said: “The minister for education must end the delay and extend the payment to the 97,000 children who rely on them over the summer.”
However, the Department of Education responded that the meals plan had been backed by the Executive “and the department awaits approval of the necessary budget” – which it said must also come from the Executive.
The idea that it is always someone else’s fault (even when it clearly isn’t) is pure Trump. In their book, Angrynomics, Eric Lonergan and Mark Blyth provide the simplest explanation of how and why such tribalism becomes destructive to its host:
It hijacks genuine political debate and deflects us from the issues that really matter to people, like wages, housing, health care and education.
In that case, it was Brexit and Trump’s wall. In this case, Sinn Féin are sidelining an intervention intended to help the very families who regularly put them into power is forgone in order to be seen to serve the interests of their most fanatical supporters.
It’s certainly not the social democracy that many commentators in the Republic are quietly trying to convince themselves it is. It’s not even centre-left. It’s good old fashioned fanaticism, red and raw.
Like Trump’s wall, it is also “sound and fury signifying nothing”, well, you know the rest… In Trump’s case, the point was never about having to build the wall just to keep the anger boiling and the waters roiled (and helping papers sell more copy).
No matter how much prejudicial nonsense the POTUS may talk, it can only work because his rivals to power have long since lost the point of what it means to try to change the world on behalf of the people they seek to represent.
In Ireland, we’re about to see if what remains of the plural centre has the resilience (or policies) to deal with this loud but largely empty tribalist challenge. Change means action, even for a scratch on the surface like free school meals through the summer.
As Eoghan Harris combatively noted in the Sunday Independent this week:
…when you try to get a grip on what “change” means, it turns into candy floss. “Change” certainly doesn’t mean social democracy because Sinn Fein is just a populist party in the European ultra-nationalist mode with unionists playing the part of the outsiders.
“Change” also can’t mean that Sinn Fein alone has a monopoly on better housing and hospitals. In fact, the programme for government has stolen most of Sinn Fein’s radical clothes and left it with nothing but verbal rags.
As per the inscription on Karl Marx’s gravestone, “the philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it”. Or as Churchill said, “when you find yourself going through hell, keep going”.
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