Fresh Start destined for OFMDFM[Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister] black hole

Posted By: December 16, 2015

Brian Feeney. Irish News (Belfast).Wednesday, December 16, 2015

THEY have a cheek calling it ‘Fresh Start’. In fact it’s same old same old. Apart from the justifiable anger and dismay from victims’ groups that there’s no progress on dealing with the past, it seems to have gone unnoticed that not a single aspect of the November 17 agreement has been implemented.

Oh yes, Sinn Féin and the DUP drove through the welfare cuts for Westminster to carry out, but only the British government wanted them.

All the other items like flags, emblems and Orange marches are much as they were on January 1 this year [2015]

An elaborate series of quangos is to be established to deal with those. The reduction in the number of Assembly Members has been delayed until 2020 at a cost of several million pounds.

Who will that benefit? No one,  but the assembly members with their noses in the trough,  slurping up subsidised meals and exorbitant travel expenses and padding out their excessive gold-plated pensions.

If and when the quangos are established in the new year do you think by any chance they’ll succeed in putting arrangements in place to deal with marches and flags next summer? With an assembly election due in May? Are you kidding?

Essentially we’re at exactly the same point as in the run-up to the elections in 2011 or, come to that, the 2010 Westminster elections.

Since February 2010 when Brian Cowen and Gordon Brown, now discredited blasts from the past, forced through the deal at Hillsborough on policing and justice and the parties signed up to handle marches etc.,  they’ve been stuck.

There was the fiasco of the deal that never was in autumn 2010 , scuppered by the Orange Order which didn’t like anyone controlling their marches. Who’d a thought?

The deal itself was so stupid that only Sinn Féin and DUP negotiators could have come up with it. The PSNI warned it would require licensing for cub scout fry-ins and back garden barbecues of more than a dozen people.

Then the failed 2013 Haass talks on the same subjects. Then the failed 2014 Stormont House agreement on the same subjects. Then 10 weeks this autumn on, guess what, the same subjects.

If you were a pessimist you would say we’re not stuck but going backwards because at least in the failed Stormont House deal there was agreement on mechanisms for the past.

Nothing ever gets done. Take the recent ‘launch’ of the Racial Equality Strategy. Incidentally why are these documents always ‘launched’? Ships yes, spacecraft maybe, but strategies?

It has taken only eight years to agree the strategy. It has taken since June 19 2014 since the consultation document was, yes, launched. The consultation closed in October 2014, then nothing until last week.

The result is a dud. Forty-six pages of waffle and three annexes. It’s a bureaucratic labyrinth guaranteeing nothing will ever find its way out.

There’s going to be a Racial Equality Subgroup. Hurray. However it’s going to join five other subgroups under the Good Relations Programme including Housing, Community Tensions, Interfaces and, wait for it, Flags. The Good Relations Programme overseeing that lot will report to a Ministerial Panel reporting to OFMDFM.

You go to Chapter 10 of the strategy headed Resourcing and you find there is no resourcing. Instead there’s an ethnic equality person in each Stormont department and each department “will bid for resources” for such really important stuff as ethnic monitoring.

There’s you thinking the Equality Commission did that. There’s an already existing Minority Ethnic Development Fund of £1.1 million a year. That’s it. No new money.

In short, all that emerges from the Racial Equality Strategy is a new quango subgroup added to a set of quangos’ subgroups.

When it will be set up,  no-one knows because, of course,  there’s no timescale.

There was a timescale in the Stormont House agreement but of course it lapsed in the welfare dispute. There’s a new timescale in the so-called ‘Fresh Start’ deal but that’s only for setting up the cat’s cradle of quangos.

Each quango will then have to produce its own strategy which will then vanish at the event horizon of the OFMDFM black hole.

As you know, nothing ever emerges from a black hole.