As we treasure long memories in this distinguished forum, I offer 1973-4 as the nearest parallel to the meltdown in government we face today. In the UK as a whole the miner’s strike in 1973 produced power cuts and a three day working week. Four months into ’74. Northern Ireland suffered its own exclusive version of power cuts all over again in the UWC strike, a loyalist revolt against the first fragile power sharing Executive that had been set up in the worst possible external circumstances. “Is Britain Ungovernable? was the question which was answered by the fall of Ted Heath’s Conservative government that had just taken us into the EEC . Northern Ireland was to be ungovernable by its own people for the next quarter century and then only part time.
To be honest, the situation today is nothing like as bad although bad enough. As I type we heard the news of the sacking of the Chancellor and Liz Truss’s attempt at a relaunch. In this excitement as in 1974, Northern Ireland doesn’t get a look in and is likely to suffer accordingly.
In every important aspect of economic crisis management we are lagging behind. We take it for granted that Covid recovery will be slower than in GB. While the debate about budget cuts rages loudly in GB, complaints about our finances are barely raised above a murmur.
The Executive operating in bizarre shadow form partly conceals the problem, At least money is being spent. Politicians would rather ramble on about the Protocol or Irish unity, than confront the problems of financial management and taking responsibility for our own affairs generally. There is a paradox here. We recognise the supreme importance of money but we would rather discuss almost anything than face it. Like the DUP’s supposed threat to the Union and breach of the Act of Union 1800; or even “ Up the Ra” . Nobody suffers electorally, not about spending British money. With honourable exceptions they are agreed on that.
Impotence is universal. The former head of the civil service who now declares the situation “bleak” was hardly as ball of fire when he was in office. The civil service was rolled over by the feuding politicians.
Northern Ireland is £600mn overspent on the year. It would be £900+ mn overspent if £300 mn wasn’t lying around unallocated due the absence of a fully functioning Executive. Does this require anything more than a book keeping adjustment or is it about real money? The choice as usual is up to Big Daddy the UK government. Will we get a bail out or suffer massive cuts next year? That’s the burning question. We don’t know. What so you think, in the present and likely future state of politics at Westminster?
Instead of handwringing, why isn’t Chris Heaton Harris spelling out the options? Because the UKG in chaos is in no position to call an election anywhere, propose Assembly reform or face the contingency of direct rule.
What will be the fate of negotiations with the EU on the Protocol? Will any mitigation short of the DUP’s position drive them further down their own black hole?
Whatever the options, they depend first on a clear sense of direction from London that a weak government may not be able to offer.
Meanwhile relief for spiralling energy costs relief is delayed. A glimmer of good news has appeared about a fall iqn the cost of electricity. Not so for gas where the costs are soaring. There are mutterings about an NI energy cap. But no “ delivery” as yet.
The magic date of 28th October will hardly produce a show down with the DUP with the UK government in chaos. There is a complete abdication of responsibility. Jamie Bryson is doing his best to fill the DUP vacuum. Thank God the “Ra” aren’t in a position to take advantage of it.
NI’s labour market stats show the first fall in the number of employees on HMRC payrolls in September in over a year. Median wage growth up 5.5% y/y (CPI is ~10% ) Unemployment v.low but rising now at 3.0% (Jun-Aug). Claimant count unemployment up in Sep for 1st time since Feb-21
NORTHERN Ireland’s private sector ended the third quarter of 2022 in deep contraction territory, according to a new report from Ulster Bank.
The lender’s monthly purchasing managers index (PMI) showed a sharp and accelerated decline in output during September.
It was the fifth successive month of declining output.
Based on the experience of 200 private sector businesses across the construction, manufacturing, retail and services sectors, the survey is considered a reliable indicator of how the economy is performing.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London