Belfast Telegraph

It's time to stop moping and being poor mouths

By Liam Clarke

During the Easter recess our politicians should consider whether the politics of the poor mouth is past its sell by.

The economic historian Liam Kennedy coined the acronym Mope - Most Oppressed People Ever - to provoke a re-examination of the nationalist sense of victimhood.

Nobody, least of all a meticulous historian like the Tipperary born Dr Kennedy, would deny that Irish history was often tragic.

There was a famine, there were Black and Tans, there were centuries of poverty for the majority of the population.

What Dr Kennedy set out to show was that other countries' histories were tragic too.

There were more oppressive colonial powers than Britain, there were greater civilian massacres and other countries had endured famine.

Worse, Mope, and the sense of disadvantage that went with it, could become an excuse for not tackling problems as they arise - a fatalistic shrug of the shoulders and the thought "sure we never had a chance."

The Republic has long shaken off that syndrome as its 'can do' attitude to the collapse of the Celtic Tiger shows. The country is picking itself up, dusting itself down and getting back to work rather than wallowing in self pity.

Mope now has a new home north of the border. It is a legacy of the troubles when the British exchequer considered us a special case and our politicians could simply demand money as a matter of life and death.

'The crying child is soonest lifted' was the watchword of negotiators during the peace process. With Britain and Ireland desperate to nail down a deal, our politicians became accustomed to digging their heels in and refusing to budge until they got what they wanted. Those days are gone.

On most measures we are no longer the poorest region of the UK - we are around the middle along with the North East and far ahead of Wales. Our youth unemployment rates are over 19% but they are lower than most other regions including London.

We only had one security related death, Constable Ronan Kerr, in 2011 and the risk of being a victim of crime is 14.3% compared to 21.5% in England and Wales.

I could go on but this gets embarrassing.

The point is that we are no longer a special case and that has been noticed in London where deep cuts are being made. The level of the block grant is likely to be reduced and OFMDFM is no more likely to hold the tide back than King Canute was.

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy called for more fiscal powers to be devolved to Northern Ireland. Unionists are against this, arguing that it would lead to a hit on the block grant and the parties have so far been unable to agree on the devolution of corporation tax. They have dug their heels in for the best deal.

The problem is though, that time is a-wasting. As Mr Murphy warned, "unilateral decisions to cut the block grant" are not that far off.

The next year or two should be used to manage the change by cutting deals with Westminster to get more control of our budget.


From Belfast Telegraph