So Arlene’s leadership is safe. I’m not actually sure it was under threat, but last week’s article from Richard Bullick criticising a bill easing controls on ministers clearly spooked some the party’s senior reps into washing their linen in the semi-public.
I understand Bullick’s concerns, not least through the 2013 example when Mrs O’Neill as Agriculture Minister refused to consult the Finance Minster on how she planned to spend £100k of EU funding and was brought to the High Court under the current provisions, I’m not sure I quite see the problem.
When you make the institutions so tight and so safe that they cannot contain controversy, you risk systemic and periodic collapse. Mrs O’Neill’s daring attempt to make off with an EU cheque aside, most fiscal matters will have to be settled at Minister of Finance’s office and around the Executive table.
And there is some sense in allowing (as was the case pre-2002) Minister some leeway for enterprise to pick up the slack of the last twenty years. Doing nothing might be less dangerous than doing something stupid with the limited cash currently available, but that’s likely to change coming out of Covid.
As The Dissenter blog notes, if you take a look at the bigger picture even briefly there’s awful lot of groundwork that needs to be done before any of the bigger ideas can be advanced, and that actually it might make sense if ministers were freed to make more headway on groundwork projects…
…and that might leave the Executive with the job to deal with the difficult strategic issues. On that point we talked about the previous thedissenter post on the failure to address fundamental strategic infrastructure that was placed a dampener on any prospect of significant future economic development – a electricity supply that is ‘insecure’ and a waste water treatment infrastructure that is at or near capacity.
Indeed, who has not noticed the advantage of having a Health Minister who is broadly trusted by cabinet colleagues to get on with the important job of protecting the citizens of Northern Ireland? What if ministers only had to run the scrutiny of their departmental committees, not their cabinet colleagues?
For that to happen (and to safely dispense with some of the protections of the St Andrews’ Agreement) we need our political parties to man up, develop real politics, to engage not just with each other but with that free and informed civic space that Professor Shirlow talks about in this week’s Cargo Of Bricks…
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Indeed, also in the News Letter today, Shane Greer, who is actually quite sceptical of the proposed “Bridge to Scotland” says that at least the feasibility study should go ahead, because…
“As a people who have spent decades now building metaphorical bridges between erstwhile detached communities in Northern Ireland, we can do better than trying without empirical merit to prevent the construction of physical ones.
…perhaps most important of all, we need to dispense with that most tiresome of character traits, the desire to shoot others down and shoot their ideas down. Seats in the peanut gallery are cheap, but they add nothing but distraction to actual events being played out on the stage.
It is a tiresome trait that holds Northern Ireland back in so many ways. The notion that that will never work, that engaging in a new venture is too risky, that things are the way they are for a reason, that you should not rock the boat, are not worthy of a people whose capacity to overcome adversity is legend.
More broadly, Northern Ireland is a pot that cannot be left unwatched. For me this was the original sin of what I’ve come to see as the rather louche Cameron/Kenny era. Johnson and Martin urgent job is to developing a functional support base to keep our politicians busy for the next five to ten years.
Too few of us in Northern Ireland know how to get anything done on our own and in any case we don’t have the resources that include not having many journalists how things works inside the government. As Shirlow notes, we have problems to tackle, but we’re not always keen to look for solutions.
As The Dissenter notes, we often resort to derision rather than enlightenment.
Instead of laughing at Boris’s bridge, or indulging the idea as having great merit, perhaps step one is banking the idea that infrastructure is essential and can be transformative.
However, to imagine something transformative however, we need to get address fundamentals. If there is to be investment in infrastructure, in Northern Ireland it needs to start with the basics.
If as Pete Shirlow notes that 48% of young people have no idea which community won or lost from the Belfast Agreement, the cracks in the current Unionist/Nationalist dam on action on development, wealth creation and actively tackling inequality, further inaction will lead to more cracking.
In short, taking off the protections may matter more when there’s very little in way of policy innovation happening than at a time when you might want to encourage a degree of risk-taking ministers who see an opportunity in developing political capital out of actually getting some important stuff done.
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