Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: We deserve better from Westminster

Political observers who claim that the post of Northern Ireland Secretary is an irrelevance in Westminster power politics may have had their case strengthened by the Prime Minister's first Cabinet reshuffle.

Owen Paterson, who is taking over the Environment portfolio, leaves significant business unfinished in Northern Ireland. He was in the middle of a battle for the reduction of corporation tax and also about to start a crucial debate about the way in which the province is governed.

Mr Paterson's sudden departure is seen by some as a calculated move by David Cameron to increase the number of Tory right-wingers in his Cabinet.

The Prime Minister in this instance appears to have deliberately chosen political expediency rather than the practical governance of Northern Ireland.

People who have supported the long campaign for a reduction in corporation tax are now entitled to fear the worst. Owen Paterson was a firm supporter of this important financial measure, but even with his political skills and clout he seems to have been losing out to strong Treasury opposition and local scepticism.

Apart from finance, there are other significant issues facing the new Northern Ireland Secretary. Not least of these challenges is continued political progress, and two nights of serious rioting in north Belfast - after a difficult summer - underline how volatile and dangerous the situation can be over here.

Mr Paterson's steady hand and his strong support for progressive measures will be missed, but it is far too early to prejudge the new Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.

She has little practical knowledge of Northern Ireland, but it would unfair to pass judgment on her political abilities before she has had sufficient time to settle in. However, it is hard not to conclude that the Prime Minister had his own ulterior motives in his transfer of power in Northern Ireland. People are entitled to feel that if the NIO and the governance of this province are to be taken seriously, they should not be treated like trinkets, which seems to have been the case this time round.

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