Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Stormont budget crisis shows Belfast Agreement was flawed: Failure to agree on welfare reform leaves us all facing cutbacks

Stormont’s budget crisis illustrates Belfast Agreement is based on a flawed premise
Stormont’s budget crisis illustrates Belfast Agreement is based on a flawed premise

The current crisis over Stormont’s budget illustrates that the Belfast Agreement is based on a flawed premise and can never deliver good government for the people of Northern Ireland.

The failure of the Executive to agree on welfare reform leaves us all facing the prospect of cutbacks on basic services like gulley cleaning, footpath repairs and street lighting.

The Health Minister has warned that the severity of the cuts will put patient safety at risk and “destroy” the NHS.

The Justice Minister has echoed  a warning from the Chief Constable that the cuts to his budget will directly impact on keeping people safe.

The Finance Minister has issued apocalyptic warnings about further cuts coming down the track unless welfare reform is agreed. 

Sinn Fein claim that they are taking a stand against Tory cuts but the reality is that because changes have not been made to the welfare system cuts are having to be made elsewhere.

The simple reality is that a government which cannot keep the street lights on and cannot guarantee the safety of its people due to cuts to frontline services has failed.

We shouldn’t be surprised because the architecture of the Belfast Agreement is fatally flawed.

There is often hear talk about the Agreement bringing normal politics to Northern Ireland but the reality could not be further from the truth. We are unique in the Western World because the electorate are denied the two fundamentals of any democracy – the right to vote a party out of government and the right to have an opposition.

Nowhere else in the UK would a party get away with saying, “People vote for them and therefore I have to be in government with them” – a line frequently trotted out by the DUP. Sinn Fein obtained a lower percentage share of the vote in the last Assembly election (27%) than the Labour Party did at the last Westminster election (29%) and yet no one claims that it is outrageous that the Labour Party are in opposition.

The reality is that Sinn Fein are in government not because they won an outright majority or came to a normal coalition agreement with another party or parties. They are in government because the Northern Ireland system has been rigged to ensure that they will be in government for ever and a day due to mandatory coalition.

Shamefully the DUP and UUP prop up this system.

As long as Northern Ireland is lumbered with the unworkable system of mandatory coalition with its inbuilt mutual vetoes which Sinn Fein have used to block everything from welfare reform to the Ulster Aviation Society open day nothing will change and we will lurch from one crisis to the next – which of course is in the interests of republicans in the long term as they do not want Northern Ireland to even exist!

It’s time unionists faced up to the reality that while Stormont with its £50,000 a week hospitality bill and fleet of ministerial cars may be delivering for the political class  it isn’t and can’t deliver the good government which Northern Ireland both needs and deserves.

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