NI politics still mired in fear and loathing largely because it remains stubbornly unaccountable…

Have you noticed how weird the democratic world is getting (yes, outside Northern Ireland)? The UK has had three PMs in as many months, and now the US Congress is being to ransom by a caucus of no more than 5% of Representatives.

The world (not just the UK) is getting more and more like Northern Ireland where we’re never sure what we want but we are sure as clear about what we don’t want. One common link between all three spaces is the dominance of Fear and Loathing.

The genius of the US constitution is how it protects minorities. This is deeply ingrained in the average American’s understanding. If a party wins the Whitehouse and the Executive, voters will often put Congress in the hands of the opposition.

But what’s coming to the fore in the current debacle is the lack of accountability. The failure of the MAGA wing of the Republican Party to get many of seats they were standing in (because of their extreme views) has only emboldened its rump.

There have been powerful Conservative caucuses in Congress before. In the mid C20 it was southern Democrats who held liberal feet to the fire until one of their number (LBJ) won the Whitehouse brought in a bunch of progressive legislation.

But never the collection of (and I quote the media here) ‘bomb throwers’ and ‘arsonists’ that has held up the election of the speaker. It’s becoming increasingly clear that there’s no deal they want other than getting rid of their leader, Kevin McCarthy.

If this sounds familiar, it ought to be. Out of the last six years, we’ve only had government in two. Yes (like the bomb throwers and arsonists of Washington DC), the two parties concerned will complain that their actions are justified.

But this casual denial of service does not come without costs. Some unionist friends say that what it proves is that local politicians are incapable of running the proverbial whelk store, and it needs handing back to the grown ups in Westminster.

[Stop laughing at the back! – Ed] What it suggests to me is that some of our political representatives are slowly losing the willingness to make themselves accountable to those who have not necessarily voted for them.

There’s a fuss about this because it is the US Congress, a democratic house with responsibilities to the world economy in ways that a small, devolved assembly in a place hardly anyone in the world has ever visited, is barely noticed.

So, eight years after First Minister elect Michelle O’Neill launched ‘her ten year vision’ for the reform of healthcare, she’s calling for the British PM to fix the mess neither she nor her executive committee colleagues have lifted a finger to implement.

In 2016 she wrote:

This Executive is united as never before in its commitment to take the right, perhaps difficult, decisions. But we know this is the only way to deliver better outcomes for our people. We are facing into a time of change for our health system but it is change that must happen. This document sets out a direction of travel that I hope all of our society can embrace and support in the challenging but exciting time ahead. [Emphasis added]

Two months later that “unity” was in the bin, and along with it most of the HSC. The odd thing is that we were all expected (by politicians, journalists and respected commentators) to take these initiatives as a serious intention of the politicians involved, when in fact this was just an expert report.

There were no party think ins, consultations with constituents about the impacts of some the tough measures in what is now more familiar to us as the Bengoa report. Michelle’s vision has shifted to begging the British PM to sort the pay of local nurses.

As year seven of Health and Wellbeing 2026 goes into it’s seventh year, Maire Louise Connolly reports from the RVH

At the time of writing, 403 men and women were waiting on a hospital bed – that number could fill a small hospital. Of those, 378 were waiting more than 12 hours. Space is limited and staff are trying their best but are exhausted.

There are many unsettling aspects about this week including that this no longer feels like a temporary glitch. Instead, the daily reports of trolleys lying head-to-toe, side-by-side is becoming the norm.

Watching the Six One News on RTÉ it’s true that the Republic has massive issues too. Indeed there’s a European wide crisis in emergency healthcare post Covid. The same is true in the various parts of Britain.

But nowhere else seems to think that the solution is have no government at all. That’s a unique product of the fanatical mind, whether it arises in the US Congress (where the rebels seem intent on ‘wrecking everything’) or Stormont.

Commentators highlight the oversight role of Committees on Capitol Hill. That should be true of Stormont. Poor oversight and a willingness to believe politicians without seeking proof means local consultants do more private work than anywhere else in the wider NHS system.

Meanwhile the drift makes the cost of fixing things gets higher each year that passes. A recent Nuffield report noted:

…estimates suggest that compared to an equivalent mix of patients, Northern Ireland’s elective, non-elective and outpatient activity cost £410m more than England’s in 2019/20. Since 2016 unit costs of hospital care have risen by around 28% in Northern Ireland, as opposed to 7–8% in England.

Not all of those costs are actual inefficiencies. Nurse numbers are higher than England, and beds more plentiful. But in choosing the exit every time there’s something unpalatable to their own political our politicians are failing the wider community.

There may be no crime, but there clearly are victims (patients, nurses, doctors, and in that order), but no party seems willing to do anything to help but stand around expressing solidarity [whatever that means – Ed].

What if we help each other turn our fear and loathing into an intelligent conversation…?

You have to quit confusing a madness with a mission.
– Flannery O’Connor


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