Belfast Telegraph

Only a hung parliament could provide the bargaining power needed to get more cash

By Liam Clarke

At the Alliance Party conference there were a bit too many references to the Titanic. Naomi Long, the party's best and brightest hope of a Westminster seat, was even said to be built of Titanic steel.

It drew a giggle on the Press bench and it made me think of the Stormont House Agreement. It is undoubtedly a great feat of Northern Ireland political engineering - it is hard to believe that such a thing would ever float. But will it ever reach its intended destination?

The agreement is the best we have got in the circumstances but it is by no means watertight. None of the other parties, from the SDLP to the DUP, could understand what Sinn Fein meant when they claimed nobody would ever lose out as a result of the new benefits system being introduced. Most felt it would protect people on changeover and it was obvious the sums didn't add up in the long term.

One participant in the talks said: "The Shinners asked why people didn't point out they were wrong and present that as evidence they are being tricked, but it isn't. People never interfered because we all assumed they were lying, or if not lying outright then engaged in party management. Or putting a spin on things so they could sell it to their people after all they had said before."

The intention may have been the standard negotiating tactic of putting in an extra demand at the last minute. If so, it doesn't seem to have worked.

In reality we may never get any more money for welfare reform. If we do, though, it will probably come in a month or two when the new government at Westminster is being formed.

DUP members are already remarking how heartily Tory and Labour colleagues laugh at their jokes and how interested they are suddenly becoming in our problems here in Northern Ireland. No doubt the SDLP and Naomi Long of Alliance also find the Palace of Westminster a warmer house than before as the big parties eye up likely allies.

If our MPs are required for the parliamentary arithmetic then £200 million may not seem like that much to get a government formed. That is a gamble. It may never happen but it did come a little closer yesterday when Ed Miliband, the Labour Leader, ruled out a coalition with the SNP. The decision came after Nigel Dodds, the DUP parliamentary leader, wrote an article in which he said he could support either party and did not include a demand for a European membership referendum, something which would have made an arrangement with Labour more difficult.

If our MPs are needed we could solve a lot of problems in a stroke, but only in the short term.

Long term our politicians have got to learn to govern without digging themselves into debt and without running back to the bank of mum and dad for a bailout every few years.

Belfast Telegraph


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