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Delicate balance has to be struck if agreement is reached between Stormont parties and the governments

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Queen’s University academic Professor Paddy Hillyard

Queen’s University academic Professor Paddy Hillyard

Queen’s University academic Professor Paddy Hillyard

Northern Ireland is a special case, but the world doesn't owe us a living. That is the delicate balance that has to be struck if agreement is reached between the parties and the governments.

It is true that we are one of the poorest regions in the UK, but Wales and arguably the north east of England are worse off than us, and some areas are not much better off. The problems of a post-industrial society are not unique to us.

What is undeniable is that we have to deal with a legacy of trouble and division that is unique in modern British or Irish history. Society is organised tribally in many areas and at many levels, including Stormont, with hundreds of millions wasted on duplicated resources every year.

We need to invest to reduce that duplication and we need agreed policies to do it, too. There has got to be a plan combining schools and housing projects to maximise the chances of mixing and that will cost money initially, though it would save it in the long run and boost the construction industry in the meantime. It is needed both financially and socially, but there are signs.

We can make a case to Britain and others to be helped on these points, but it needs to be a detailed and persuasive case, not just a demand for more money.

We also need to be able to explain to Britain why, alone in these islands, we have no water charges, and this costs us about £270 million a year, according to the QUB expert Paddy Hillyard. The DUP estimates that it saves every household here an average of £400 a year.

It is hard to explain to MPs like Nigel Mills, the Conservative who represents the marginal seat of Amber Valley in Derbyshire, why his constituents should pay but we shouldn't.

He demanded in the Commons that Northern Ireland should get no more big cheques, and many agree with him. The Treasury has also remarked on the fact that we have the lowest local government taxation in the UK or Ireland. We also have free prescriptions, free transport for the over 60s and other benefits not available in England but paid for us by the UK taxpayer.

An area where we are entitled to aid is with the legacy of the Troubles. That was costed at £300 million by the Eames/Bradley Commission in 2009. That is the sort of offer David Cameron needs to think about if he wants to resolve this issue.

Belfast Telegraph


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