Posted By: January 31, 2015

Patrick Murphy. Irish News ( Belfast). Saturday, January 31, 2014.

HOORAY, we are going to have new government departments at Stormont. (No, not a new government, just some new departments. We are one of the few places in the world where having a new government is forbidden by law. Think of it as an Irish form of democracy.) 

The BBC has reported a claimed outline of the new departmental structure. 

If it is accurate, our new slimmed-down departments appear designed to hasten the forthcoming privatisation of government services. (Can you remember a party conference or Ard Fheis at which any of the five executive parties decided to cut 20,000 public-sector jobs? How did they all adopt that policy at the same time? Political telepathy?) 

So three cheers for Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron and the Americanisation of our society, in which government’s role is not to govern but to facilitate business. In abandoning responsibility for addressing economic inequality, it represents the most fundamental social change here since the introduction of the welfare state in the 1940s. 

The Office of Budget Responsibility recently forecast that by 2018 government in Britain will have the same level of responsibility for society as in the 1930s. (Maybe Stormont ministers will seek additional finance through sponsorship for their departments.) 

All five executive parties support a return to the Hungry Thirties. (Parties which voted against the budget remain part of an administration which is determined to cut public services even more than Margaret Thatcher.) 

The first casualty in reducing the role of the state is education. (It always is under Thatcherism. She began her attacks on the system by ending free school milk in 1971.) We may see a new Department of Education and Children at Stormont (sponsored by a mobile classroom manufacturer?). 

While children certainly need integrated support from education and other services, the idea that education is solely for children shows a poor understanding of the process. Education is for everyone, not just children. (Why not have a Department of Universities and Adults?) 

Stormont appears to be proposing that universities should replace education with programming students to serve the needs of business (which will pay less tax for the benefit). That would explain the proposal to bring universities under a new Department of Economy and Skills (sponsored by the Student Loans Company: “We know where you don’t work”). 

God help university departments offering classics, philosophy or literature. (Although as Flannery O’Connor said, when asked if she thought that universities stifle writers: “They don’t stifle enough of them. There is many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”) The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) may become the Department of Health and Well Being. (Why not? There will be few social services and the public is no longer safe from Stormont.) “Well being” means “being comfortable, healthy or happy”. So it will be the 

Department of Health and a choice between Comfort, Health or Happiness. The Department of Health and Happiness probably sounds best, because when health provision breaks down, we will happily die to get away from it all. (The new department could be sponsored by the sugar industry: “Obesity is good for profits.”) 

The Department for Regional Development may join with part of the Department of Environment to form the (wait for it) Department of Development and Infrastructure. The natural home for these functions would appear to be the new economy department but the universities will be occupying their space. (Since this new department will be responsible for street lighting, it could be sponsored by Nasa: “Bringing dark holes to street lighting near you.”) 

Missing from the new proposals are three essential departments for maintaining Stormont’s new economic policy: the Department for Saying One Thing and Doing Another, the Department for 

Making It Up As We Go Along and the Department for Denying That The Loss Of 20,000 Jobs Will Impact on Services. 

We now know that transferring corporation tax powers to Stormont will reduce the block grant by £300 million annually. So a corporation tax rate of 12.5 per cent would require businesses here to make a combined profit of at least £2.4 billion for Stormont to recoup that amount – an unlikely target in a global recession. The use of tax avoidance schemes will probably increase that amount and with 20,000 public sector redundancies, who will be left in Revenue and Customs to pursue tax evaders? 

But it is not all bad news. There are no plans to reduce the 36 press office posts in the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister. 

As the Hungry Thirties take hold, they will need them all. 

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image descriptionPatrick Murphy
Patrick Murphy
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Newton Emerson
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Nuala McCann

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