Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Why MLAs must get real and put holidays on hold

Our MLAs are about to go on holiday. They won’t be long back when we will be told the extent of the public spending cuts coming our way.

They will be deep and cruel. Nationally, newspapers are speculating that Whitehall departments will see their budgets slashed by 40%.

Now if a private company was facing that sort of decimation of its revenue, the managing director and his fellow board members would be expected to stay at their desks and find ways of coping in the new financial climate.

But that doesn’t seem to apply to politicians.

They merrily set off on their holidays without a care in the world. If the money isn’t there, sure it’s David Cameron, Nick Clegg or George Osborne who is to blame. What could we do anyway, they would ask if challenged.

Well, there is quite a lot they could do. First of all there are cuts of £128m lying on the table. These may be postponed to next year, but have ministers decided where to make them? How would we, the taxpayer, know?

But we do know from that ministerial hate figure, Caitriona Ruane, that she won’t be able to build any new school classrooms this year without an increase in her budget. So that means children continue to be talk in mobile classrooms patently not fit for purpose.

Imagine a film documentary team coming to Northern Ireland and being shown around the schools estate. This is the new prosperous, peaceful Northern Ireland, remember.

And yet we have thousands of children trudging into portable buildings each day for their lessons. It’s the sort of thing you see in Sport Aid, as celebrities appeal for funds for children in the Third World.

It is so blindingly obvious that it hardly seems necessary to say it, but ministers and MLAs should be sitting down now and working out their priorities for the coming years. After all they are busy men and women, with some of them having two or even three jobs, so they need to make use of every available hour.

They really haven’t time to be taking holidays.

And any sensible person would say there are three imperatives; three functions of the state that must be given priority at all costs. They are funding of the health service; creation of jobs and education of our children.

It doesn’t matter if Caitriona Ruane is the most hated politician in Northern Ireland, or that the DUP and Michael McGimpsey dislike each other with an intensity that would put the Sicilian Mafia to shame.

Petty personal politics should not come into the equation.

We can do without funding the Scots-Irish producing a newsletter in English; would we really miss another stretch of dual carriage in the foothills of the Sperrins; does anyone care if we cannot sponsor some expensive ballet company to come to Northern Ireland or a fact-finding mission to see how wind-energy can be harnessed in the Himalayas?

But if we cannot house and teach our children; if we cannot attract investment or keep existing jobs going; or, if our wards start closing and our doctors start emigrating then we are in real trouble. And unless we make wise choices about how to carve up public spending that could be the result.

It’s good to know that the MLAs and ministers aren’t going to let those concerns spoil their holidays.

At least they know their jobs are safe for another year, unlike the rest of us.

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