Have they been had?

Posted By: January 15, 2020



Financial vagueness in the deal shows the executive will not be trusted


Brian Feeney. Irish Times. Belfast. Wednesday, January 15, 2020


Have they been had? Boris Johnson blew in with Storm Brendan on Monday and flew out again as the storm abated, puffing, blowing and blustering, but in Johnson’s case leaving no mark of his presence.


Party leaders at Stormont had hoped for some concrete result, at least a ballpark figure for the money promised in all the government commitments given in the deal they signed up to last Friday. Instead, windy arm waving from Johnson.


The more you look into the deal the more obvious it is that there are almost no dates or deadlines for the financial promises. It also becomes clear that when the British government is talking about ‘multi-year budgets’ it means a lot of the money promised will be spread over three to five years – apart from ‘immediate support to the health service’ – not doled out this year as parties believed last weekend.


Furthermore, finance is conditional as laid out in detail in Annex A ‘UK Government Financial and Economic Commitments to NI’. Ominously the Annex points out, ‘The financial package will be accompanied by stringent conditions to deliver a greater level of accountability for public spending’. There will be independent monitoring and reporting overseen by the UK government. To this end, an independent Fiscal Council will be set up by July. Of course, this oversight is not unconnected to making sure the chicanery around Red Sky, Nama and above all, RHI, is not repeated. RHI ‘and its implications’ will be carefully reviewed by the UK government. In short, the executive, given its dreadful record 2007-17, will not be trusted any longer.


Apart from finance and its oversight, there’s precious little definite in the deal. Even the commitment to “publish and introduce legislation’” within 100 days to implement the Stormont House Agreement to address legacy issues, which sounds great, will go nowhere given the Colonel Blimps on the Conservative benches. How will such legislation get through given the promise Johnson repeated on Monday to prevent “unfair” prosecution of soldiers, whatever that means?


It’s not going to happen.


Why is there no date for changing the immigration rules to recognize family members coming to The North or to honor the commitment in the Good Friday Agreement to recognize that people here can be British or Irish or both?


At least there’s a date for inserting an Irish language act in the Northern Ireland Act (three months) but with the bill of rights, here we go again. An ad hoc assembly committee to outline the terms of reference to be agreed within thirty days, and then?


One of the reasons for the wooliness, of course, is that this isn’t the parties’ agreement. Don’t forget they couldn’t reach one, so they could hardly come up with dates and deadlines for stuff the parties didn’t know about. Down to the last minute the DUP were dragging their heels as our proconsul had made publicly clear before Christmas. That’s why they had to be given all kinds of pathetic sweeteners like being able to fly their flag three more days, introducing the army covenant which is in danger of contravening equality legislation here, and establishing a strange body called the Castlereagh Foundation which seems to be a government-funded sectarian playground for Unionist historians – is that an oxymoron? Again, like almost everything else these are all on the long finger with funding or personnel involved unknown.


Still, despite everything, a much chastened Arlene Foster, as you may have noticed minus passive-aggressive crown brooch, gave an emollient speech to open the Assembly, sitting on Saturday, with even a nod towards the controversial Irish language she used to disparage. She referred to a picture, girls at Our Lady’s Grammar School Newry had given her, with the motto, Ní neart go cur he cheile. Someone translated it for Arlene as “we’re only strong together,” The real translation is, “there’s no strength without unity.”