Belfast Telegraph

Phantom budget or phantasmagoric?

WITH even the Secretary of State succumbing to the weird and wonderful ways of accounting in Northern Ireland, we now have the UK Government agreeing to phantasmagoric budgeting.

Yes, I know that commentators have been talking about finance minister Arlene Foster bringing forward a ‘phantom budget’. But at the risk of being described as a pedant, I believe it is more correct to use the adjective ‘phantasmagoric’ as the dictionary has three definitions for it.

These are – and I paraphrase – something with a fantastic or deceptive appearance; appearing as an optical illusion; or, a scene made up of many elements.

In the surreal world of Northern Ireland politics, when you don’t have a solid, concrete amount of money in the bank, you just make it up, cross your fingers behind your back and pretend everything is going to work out.

Ms Villiers has obviously tired of the whole debacle (and probably wishing she never agreed to be SoS for a second time) and is sounding dark mutterings.

Her ire is, for the time being, directed at Sinn Féin. One suspects, however, that she is growing weary of all the parties and their machinations and pronouncements.

But, behind the attempts to sort out the budget, lie the hard headed bean counters of the Treasury. As Norn Iron plc could not agree to sort out a new training college for police, fire service and prison officers, which the UK Government had agreed to support, the Treasury has withdrawn £53m of funding.

With £12m already spent by Stormont buying land near Cookstown for the college and paying professional fees, the college looks doomed. This could be a harbinger of things to come, with Treasury mandarins taking every chance they can to claw back money. In this case, it will not be a phatasmagoric budget, but a very real hack and slash affair. Whether that comes from our own finance department invoking emergency powers and civil servants taking over, or Cameron and co taking budget control away from here, the scenarios are being calculated right now.

Seeing as this is Northern Ireland, I am looking forward to the traditional sport of ‘blame’. From now until the mess is sorted out, or the plug is pulled on our devolved government, commentators, pundits and politicians will indulge in muck slinging, veiled accusations, pointing of fingers and rows on TV and radio.

Points will be awarded for artistic merit...

Meanwhile, with our budgetary situation moving from dire to ‘panicked’, there is always time for a good old-fashioned row about flags.

This week an Irish tricolour was raised above Parliament Buildings. It almost makes us reminiscent of the Saturday flag protests at Belfast’s City Hall...Oh, wait, they’re still going on!

It may come as a surprise to all of you out there, but MLAs and Ministers are still busy scrutinising, legislating and representing the interests of NI.

Against the backdrop of calamity, they even managed a lengthy debate on the Justice Bill in a session that lasted 12 hours. That’s a serious amount of sitting on rear ends listening to pontificating politicians.

Add in the safety concerns over plans for the redevelopment of the Casement Park stadium, the Agriculture Minister heading off to China to promote our pork, the Polish ambassador’s concerns over racist attacks and we have had an interesting few days.

Indeed, it is a Chinese curse to say someone “may you live in interesting times”, and we may find ourselves living cursed to witness the interesting times of phantasmagoria becoming the nightmare of a zombie Assembly.

Is it the dark dawn of the night of the ‘living dead’ MLA?

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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