Nonsense to suggest restored Stormont would improve public services

Posted By: January 24, 2018

Distributed by Irish National Caucus

“The real kernel for talks/negotiations is to …  persuade the DUP to treat Sinn Féin MLAs with decency and respect as representatives of 70 percent of Nationalist voters in The North.”

Brian Feeney.Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, January 23, 2018

As talks (why are they not negotiations?) begin today it’s important to challenge the prevailing Unionist narrative which has dominated the media here with increasing success over the last six months.

That narrative essentially claims that an Executive must be restored because if that happens all will be well in the best of all possible worlds.

That’s the DUP line, really another way of saying let’s go back to where we were in January 2017. It’s the NIO line, too,  bought by the media. Regrettably, it’s also the Irish government line. The result is endless stories about individual hardship in health and education caused, all together now, by lack of an Executive. Ah, if only there was a minister at Stormont who could ‘take a decision’ then all would be well. The money would be released, operations would happen on schedule, schools would be showered with money and roads would be smooth as silk. Codswallop.

The veteran economist John Simpson provided a dose of reality last week in an article pointing out that there’s no money. Simpson showed that in the last seven years The North’s block grant has diminished by £700 million, about £100 million a year, more if you count inflation. As he says, “it is easy – but wrong – to blame the absence of a functioning Stormont. Even with local ministers in office, the need to live within the Treasury overall budget would apply”.

The cause of declining public services is not the absence of local policy decisions. Reporting it as such is just the herd instinct. Compare the analysis in Britain of the deliberate collapse of the NHS caused by Conservative-led governments since 2010 with the lazy acceptance of the NIO narrative here. It has been established beyond doubt that the problem in Britain is lack of money, about £4 billion. Anybody here establishes how much more money the NHS in The North needs, minister or no minister?

The truth is that if an executive were established next week, which it won’t be, there will be no more money to spend. Any incoming ministers will face exactly the same problems as are being reported daily. The fact, as Simpson says, is that any minister will have to manage the public services on a reducing annual spending budget. So public services will continue to deteriorate under this Conservative government. That’s their political philosophy. They may call it austerity but standards in health, education, roads maintenance, street lighting, you name it, will all decline.

Needless to say, Simpson’s dose of reality didn’t get much attention because of the success of the prevailing narrative and the failure of Sinn Féin to drive home its case that fundamentally the opposite is true.

It’s a lie that there’s a choice between having an Executive and declining public services. There is no money to improve public services, executive or not. The real kernel for talks/negotiations is to reset the mechanics of the daily interchange at Stormont, to implement agreements already made like Fresh Start, to persuade the DUP to treat Sinn Féin MLAs with decency and respect as representatives of 70 percent of Nationalist voters in The North.

When Sinn Féin say there will be no return to the status quo, a position massively endorsed in two elections in 2017, they mean there is no point in restoring an Executive where an unrepentant DUP will continue to behave as they did until last January. Quite simply it would just collapse again. More importantly, Sinn Féin would be a laughing stock for their own voters after huffing and puffing for a year then meekly returning to where they started.

Sinn Féin lost thousands of voters between 2010 and 2017 who stayed at home because of nationalist disenchantment with the DUP’s refusal to operate the Good Friday Agreement or share power honestly.

There is not a scintilla of evidence that the necessary sea change in Unionism has even begun. It certainly won’t happen in the next fortnight of talks which are simply designed to give the British government an excuse for shutting Stormont.

What really counts now is how successful the Irish government will be in asserting their right to be involved in administering The North when the talks fail.