Dangerous stagnation on all fronts
The contributions in this issue focus on the dangers of failing to deal with environmental degradation and the other effects of climate change. We know what the remedies are: less water pollution, particularly for Lough Neagh, better waste water management, more wind power and less fossil fuel for electricity generation, better insulation of houses and much else.
Dealing with almost all of these requires an operating Assembly and Executive and also a substantial increase in resources. In previous issues we have highlighted the low level of locally generated income for water management and for other public services in health and social care and housing. In this issue we highlight the way in which the Westminster government uses and abuses the Barnett formula to starve the devolved administration in Scotland and Wales and here of a fair share of national public revenue. The Tory refusal to engage with the doctors and other health unions to resolve the staff shortages and difficulties in retaining and recruiting staff. This adds to the problem as any independent devolved deal increases the need to make savings in other services.
Underlying it all is the standoff between the Secretary of State and the DUP over its continuing refusal to elect a Speaker, take up their ministerial positions and join the other parties in doing what needs to be done on all these fronts.
There are some potential remedies for this. The most immediate is to adopt new Westminster legislation to repeal the provisions of the St Andrew’s Agreement and restore the original terms of the Good Friday Agreement that the First and Deputy First Ministers – and the Speaker – should be elected by a majority Assembly vote rather than on the strengths of the leading nationalist and unionist parties. That would permit those ministers who are willing to take up their positions to get on with the business of government. Specific legislation to deal with current problems of finance and the powers of the Secretary of State is regularly passed in Westminster as everyone there is fed up with the pervasive stagnation in Northern Ireland. The DUP can be left to justify their narrow constitutional concerns.
All this will require close consultation and collaboration with the Irish government to devise and implement a Plan B to deal with the abstentionist stance of the DUP. The important goal is not reunification which if it eventually emerges will take years to achieve but effective government in Northern Ireland now.View Issue 491