So much for the cash lavished on Loyalist areas

Posted By: December 01, 2016

Newton Emerson. Irish News (Belfast). Thursday, December 1, 2016

SOME people have no sense of gratitude. Loyalist leaflets were left on cars in east Belfast last week, bearing a picture of a gunman and the words: “All PSNI informers will be put out of this area.”

So much for the cash and compromises lavished on east Belfast’s loyalists – or “pragmatism”, as the chief constable has called it.

The PSNI said the leaflets are a sign that its community policing is putting pressure on criminals.

We are told that many loyalists are responding well to pragmatism, although the refusal of Dee Stitt to stand down from Charter NI suggests he will not respond to anyone.

If only there was an objective way to measure the ‘transitioning’ of paramilitaries, as Stormont describes this particular goal.

A policy like the £80 million Social Investment Fund (SIF), for instance, would normally have a business case and a clear set of targets against which to judge its success. Yet although SIF is acknowledged by the executive to have a transitioning focus, and is regarded by everyone else as a paramilitary slush fund, its stated aims and outcomes are solely about deprivation – reducing unemployment, ill health, dereliction and so on. Paramilitarism goes unmentioned as an assumed symptom of poverty, rather than a cause. Among the oblique indicators we are left with to measure loyalist transitioning are rates of “becoming a young mother”.

SIF was agreed between the DUP and Sinn Féin in 2010. Since then, transitioning has become a more open objective, while performance indicators have become all the rage.

The big idea in the current draft programme for government, published this May and out for consultation until December 23, is for a ‘dashboard’ of indicators the public can monitor. Based on an existing system in Scotland, this will group Stormont’s work into 14 broad outcomes – for example, ‘a more equal society’, high-quality public services’ and ‘more people working in better jobs’.

Delivery can be judged against 42 indicators, most of which measure something straightforward and quantifiable. For example, getting more people into better jobs has indicators for rates of economic inactivity, internet connectivity and gross regional project, all of which can be objectively measured. The draft programme even specifies what should he measured. For example, internet connectivity is judged by “the proportion of Northern Ireland premises with access to broadband services in excess of 30Mbps.”

As in Scotland, a dashboard website of all these indicators will then be established and regularly updated for anyone to view.

Paramilitarism does get one mention in the draft programme for government, in the foreword, where the executive pledges to help “communities affected by criminal gangs and paramilitaries” by giving them “a future that is characterized by freedom from the threat of violence and intimidation.”

However, there is no mention of transitioning as an outcome, let alone of violence and intimidation as indicators.

This is doubly strange when the Fresh Start agreement – on which the programme for government ultimately rests – places such an emphasis on transitioning. Tackling paramilitarism makes up about a third of its workload and nearly all its original, non-budgetary content.

If Stormont wanted to measure the success of transitioning, there are plenty of indicators available. The peace monitoring reports from the Joseph Rowntree Trust and the paramilitary activity charts from the Detail website put numbers to, among other things, murders, shootings, punishment attacks and people forced from their homes.

It might seem facetious to propose these for a government dashboard, but given that Stormont is happy to include something as trite as internet speed, perhaps it is more facetious not to.

Even if political squeamishness means such a dashboard will never be created, it remains a useful thought experiment. We may not like the chief constable’s pragmatism but most of us seem to wearily accept it. What would we like to see measured in that vein, and would visible progress make us more accepting? If the indicators for threats and violence went down, might support for SIF go up?

The delivery of paramilitary transitioning is already being measured, quite precisely, by loyalists and republicans. Loyalists want what they feel republicans have got in terms of cash and made-up jobs, while republicans do not want loyalists jeopardizing their cash and made-up jobs, as mutterings from both make unmistakeably plain. There seems to be an outcome of keeping each side’s funding indicators in balance.

Why should the public, who provide the cash and suffer the consequences, not have performance indicators of their own?