The Writings on the Wall
The contributions to this issue highlight a range of changes and developments that threaten the foundations of the Good Friday Agreement and call for new and more realistic policies by all concerned.
To begin with, the financial crisis is not just due to a punitive budget from the Secretary of State. It also stems from some significant structural gaps in the financing of Northern Ireland that people and parties in the rest of the United Kingdom – and also in the Republic – find hard to understand or willingly pay for. Rates and water charges and much else are out of line with those in other areas in these islands. There is a long-term need for an increase in locally based financing which needs to be developed in ways that raise money from the better off rather than result in cuts in services for the less well off.
The local election and census results also point to significant changes in the make-up and political attitudes of the population that need to be reflected in the arrangements for regional government. As both Micheal Martin as Taoiseach and Lord Alderdice for Alliance have stressed, the institutions set up under the Agreement are no longer fit for purpose and need to be reformed if the Assembly and Executive are to survive and deliver much-needed reforms in many sectors. Demands for more money from the Treasury to persuade the DUP to revoke its boycott will not be enough to restore stability.
Otherwise we are heading back to direct rule from Westminster which may in time morph into shared or joint authority rather than any rapid or peaceful steps towards reunification. The changing financial positions in both the UK and the Republic are very different from those in the 1980s when only the UK could realistically fund the public deficit in the North. But any major finance from the Republic will come with unavoidable EU strings and requirements.
It is all to play for if all of us here are not to be weighed in the balance and found wanting in all senses of the word.View Issue 490