Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Elections already overshadowing a busy agenda at Stormont

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The Assembly opens today and there is a packed agenda between now and the next election.

The main priorities are encouraging the fledgling signs of economic recovery and implementing Together: Building a United Community, the Executive's document on a shared future. Success in these areas is linked the Haass talks, which include all the Executive parties and start next week.

They need to make immediate progress on flags and parading so that next summer's marching season does not end in sporadic violence and political recrimination like the one just ended.

Writing today, Peter Robinson also expresses his determination to complete the reorganisation of local government, reducing 26 councils to 11, and the Review of Public Administration aimed at streamlining public services to produce more 'joined-up' government as well as savings.

There are also the Transforming Your Care reforms, aimed at moving the delivery of more care plans into the home and smaller area-based units.

Reform of the benefit system has been agreed at Westminster and that determines our welfare budget here. The amount we will be allocated for social welfare payments, like jobseekers allowance and payments to the sick or disabled, will be reduced.

The Executive has the power to raid other budgets to ease the impact of welfare cuts on the poor. However diverting money into the benefit system would come at a cost to services like education, security and health, which make up nearly half of all spending.

Achieving all this will require a high degree of political co-operation in a period when the parties will face elections every year.

Next year we have the European and local government contests, in 2015 a Westminster election is scheduled and in 2016 the current Assembly term comes to an end.

It is then that the success or failure of this DUP and Sinn Fein-led government will be judged.