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A week is a long time in politics: Crisis at Stormont? What crisis...

By Will Chambre

When it comes to Northern Ireland, we have the uncanny habit of walking into crises after crises, while there actually is some work actually being done - it's called the reverse swan theory. On the surface there's a flurry of action, while underneath there is calm and serenity as work continues.

At least that was the situation until the triple whammy of elections knocked everything out of kilter. First the double blow of council and European elections dazed Assembly proceedings, and now the prospect of a Westminster election (May 2015), and Assembly election (May 2016) have the institutions on the ropes.

Plus the small matter of 'that' vote in Scotland next week.

With all banner headlines about the institutions not being fit for purpose, furrowed brows of MLAs on news programmes and briefings about briefings from the party machines, it would be easy to curl up into a little ball and shut one’s self off from the depressing political noise.

But to do so would be to admit defeat. For those of you who know your history, you will recall that in the face of opposition to his education reforms of 1923, Lord Londonderry took off to solve an easier problem; miners' strikes in England.

And, this week has seen an education reform of sorts. We hope you are all sitting down, because we are about to use the 'C' word. Yes, members of the Northern Ireland Executive worked a small miracle - wait for it – they compromised.

Yes, given the  Education and Skills Authority (ESA) saga had been dragging on like an 'A' level student trying to grasp Milton's Paradise Lost, this was a welcome development amid the current political gloom.

So, in the spirit of something or another the Executive has agreed – well they had at the time of writing – to merge the five education boards and let the other 'bits' of the ESA jigsaw (NICE, CCMS, CnaG) sit on the side of the board, independent, for now.

Wow! Something that doesn't really please everyone, but a decision was taken...

Naturally, the media didn't focus on the uncharted waters of such compromise, but shone their cynical eye on the millions poured down the sink, something we too have passed comment on in the past.

It is, in fact, the gaping hole in the Executive's budget that is vexing the players at the Assembly. There’s a variety of reasons for this, not least the millions being clawed by the Treasury, due to the impasse within the Executive over implementing welfare reform.

With the DUP leader claiming that the welfare debacle would blow a £1bn hole in the budget of Northern Ireland, and Sinn Féin refusing to budge an inch, there is not much cause for optimism.

Whatever way the Scots vote next week, the spotlight will inevitably fall on the Barnett formula; the mechanism by which the Treasury determines how big our slice of the cake is. Whether or not the rebellious Scots vote to rebuild Hadrian's Wall, daub themselves in Braveheart blue and vote Yes or hold out for devo max with full income tax raising powers, and vote No, the money men in Whitehall will want to make good the shortfall caused by the loss of Scottish tax receipts. That can only mean one thing for Norn Iron, less money for our Executive to spend.

And, there appears to be no truth in rumours that our world boxing champion will be at Stormont this week to knock some sense into MLAs...

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