Posted By: November 29, 2014

 Patrick Murphy. Irish News ( Belfast).Saturday, November 29, 2014


EMIGRATE. That’s probably the best thing to do if Stormont obtains power over corporation tax. Yes, flee the country, because if the assembly is given additional economic autonomy, its current political and moral collapse will be replicated across an already ailing economy. Oh dear, you say, what a terrible tirade against our noble and beloved Stormont, with its excellent record in governance and an intellectual insight into politics and economics which is the envy of the civilised world. Give us three good reasons for your outrageous outburst. (Are you sure you only want three?) The first reason is that, unlike the Scottish parliament, there is no government at Stormont to which new powers might be devolved. There is just a loose assortment of political parties, which requires international intervention to make them talk to each other. It was an inevitable (and intended) consequence of the Good Friday Agreement that the North’s sectarian cream would rise to the top. (And what a cream we witnessed this week.) Those who welcomed institutionalised sectarianism are now surprised that it is neither an ethical or effective system of government. Ah but, you say, there is a government of sorts at Stormont. You have a point. There exists what some might describe as a medieval manor, in which two rival sets of self-appointed nobility, each with servants by the hundred, display a common contempt for the feudal peasantry. (You know the sort of thing: 35 press officers in the Office of First and Deputy First Minister but none of them can readily tell us how much their bosses’ foreign trips cost. Is that what they mean by equality?) The second reason for withholding tax powers is that Stormont can no longer be trusted with public finances. As well as funding boxing promoters, golf clubs and professional cycling at the expense of tackling social deprivation, most of Stormont’s political parties have failed to satisfactorily explain why they appear to have diverted our money into their party funds. (That sounds like very sophisticated equality indeed.) The DUP even suggested that those who exposed politicians’ behaviour were parasites. (I still can’t work that one out.) The MPs’ expenses scandal at Westminster resulted in some members going to prison. But our MLAs enjoy political status. There will be no sanctions against them for fumbling in Stormont’s greasy till, as Yeats might have described it. (Was it for this, the 4,000 died? Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone – it is on the Stormont gravy train.) Forty three per cent of children in West Belfast are in poverty. Meanwhile, Sinn Féin, which has represented the constituency for 17 years, stands accused of using public money to line the party’s pockets. (You can make your own equality remark about that one.) Jim Allister, the voice of principle and decency in Stormont, was prevented from raising the expenses issue in the Assembly on Monday. If truth is the first casualty of war, it has also been the primary victim of peace in this country. The expenses scandal merely confirms what many already suspected: the permanent partition of Ireland was bought in the same way as the Act of Union in 1801. There is nothing new in Irish politics. The third reason for withholding devolved tax powers from Stormont is that no party there appears to understand that economic policy must be planned in tandem with social policy. Their common aim is lowering corporation tax to copy the Republic of Ireland. None of them have indicated that because of the South’s low tax rate, two thirds of the population there must pay €100 for a visit to a hospital Accident and Emergency Department. (So how do you reconcile reduced corporation tax with opposition to welfare reform?) Ah but, say the parties, the additional income we generate from lower corporation tax (a contradiction in itself) will compensate for the reduction in the block grant from Westminster. That is an unproven assumption. It is also another way of saying that Stormont wishes to move from a state run economy to an unregulated free market system. This is a perfectly legitimate economic approach. It is often called Thatcherism. The process has already begun with huge cuts planned for education and health. Already, the state can no longer fund all street lighting. (Stormont has literally created political darkness.) We have seen what Thatcherism did to British economy and society. It is a heartless ideology, which facilitates huge inequality. To prevent it, you might like to appeal to the integrity of the parties at Stormont. Alternatively, you could politely suggest to them that the wrong people are emigrating from this country.