Belfast Telegraph

SF pork barrel politics can't stop progress

By Liam Clarke

Pork barrel politics may eventually pull the Stormont Executive apart. Pork barrel politics are where parties spend public money to get votes, for instance siting a key public facility in a prized constituency, or awarding Government contracts to local businesses. Sometimes pork barrel spending can work out for the best all-round, but that is a matter of luck.

The Sinn Fein demo in defence of St Mary's College is an example of pork barrel thinking. As Robin Swann of the UUP pointed out, Sinn Fein voted for the 2015-16 budget that put St Mary's in this hole.

That happened in the Assembly last week and Stephen Farry, the DEL Minister, clearly indicated he was going to lop £1m off the budgets of both St Mary's and Stranmillis, the teacher training centre that caters mainly for Protestants.

Now Paul Maskey, the MP for West Belfast, and Mairtin O Muilleoir, the former Lord Mayor, are spearheading a campaign against its closure.

It is easy to see their point of view. St Mary's is a boon to west Belfast, a lovely building and a centre for events. As Mr Maskey pointed out, the college has an excellent record for finding jobs for its graduates. As he also pointed out, a small school is more expensive to run.

There are economies of scale which we cannot ignore at a time when budgets are falling and so are school numbers.

Training teachers isn't a case of giving individual constituencies a slice of the action, it is about planning for the future educational needs of society as a whole.

A bigger college, perhaps with a number of campuses, would clearly have more resources and could offer more specialist courses.

There are also big social advantages in educating teachers in a shared way. Currently, a teacher can be educated at a single denomination school and trained at a single religion college before returning to a single religion school.

This is a strategic moment and place to intervene in the teacher education system, both to save money and achieve the Executive's objective of building a united community.

Of course, there are other examples of pork barrel politics in Northern Ireland: the ring-fencing of rates allowances on Orange halls is one example on the unionist side.

Much of the proposed spending on Irish language and Ulster-Scots translators fall into the same category - it risks turning a public service into a self-fulfilling job-creation scheme for language enthusiasts.

Belfast Telegraph


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