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Cuts must start at the top of a bloated public sector

In the end, not one phone call was made from London to our expectant politicians. Not one serious overture, not one tactical rain-check.

John Reid, the former Secretary of State, put the mockers on the fantasy early on when he said that a rainbow coalition was unsustainable as a Government for the United Kingdom - and he was right.

Another former Northern Ireland Office minister, George Howarth, went further when he slagged off the DUP and totally rejected the concept of brokering a deal with Mr Robinson's party. How galling that a pal of the politician they gave way to in North Down, Lady Sylvia Hermon, finds their politics so distasteful.

When Ian Paisley Jnr offered his pearl of political wisdom that "beggars can't be choosers" - implying that the Tories would come knocking on the DUP door - you knew it was time to switch off the telly, take the dog out and sample the real world again.

Our politicians either just can't read the runes in London, or they can't do the maths - they just don't get it. They slagged off the Conservatives during the election and our electorate basically followed suit and said it didn't want to support the party of Government in London. Now, politically, we are all but detached from the power-brokers in London - the Conservatives - who presumably will pay scant attention to our bleatings over the cuts that are coming here and everywhere else in the UK.

For the last decade the profligacy of the political class in Northern Ireland has shown no economic bounds.

Whole families have been clothed, fed and watered out of the public purse. Some of our 'politicians' know nothing other than the public payroll and the regular income and expenses that are guaranteed. Some of them expect to be on that gravy train until they perish.

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When the First Minister and Deputy First Minister couldn't agree on one Victims Commissioner, they appointed four at an additional cost of around £200,000 per year.

Over a five-year period, that's £1m extra - not much set against a national debt of £178 billion, or thereabouts, but it would help fund a team of doctors for especially needy children at the RVH.

The absence of fiscal responsibility doesn't start, or end, there. Teams of paper-shufflers serve the burgeoning empire of OFMDFM and crews of advisers tend the two top ministers. We boast 108 MLAs in the field of representation when 72 would be adequate and more appropriate to our population size.

A 5% pay-cut for ministers was announced in London last week. Will our ministers wake up and smell the coffee?

Our senior civil servants, earning up to and more than £100,000-a-year, felt the need to dip further into the public purse to award each other bonuses for doing what they are paid to do in their job descriptions - they didn't get it either.

When Ian Paisley Jnr talked emotively about the Tories planning to cut frontline staff, like nurses, teachers and doctors, he missed the point. Instead of scaremongering, he should have been identifying the platoons of bureaucrats the Assembly, and previously the NIO, created, who can be jettisoned without impairing our frontline services.

It is not going to be pleasant for those in public service here when we begin to learn what scale of cuts will be coming down the tracks from Whitehall. There is nothing amusing, or pleasing, about people losing their role in society, or their means of earning a living.

But the stark reality is that Northern Ireland cannot afford the administration it has been burdened with - or the unsustainable senior tiers of management in our civil service.

The Tories will diminish the bloated quango sector in England and Wales and our local ministers need to start identifying which ones they should guillotine.

The days of largesse and of understanding in London of our 'special circumstances' are coming to an end. Our ministers need to cut out the slack at the top of their own bureaucracies first - and take significant pay-cuts.


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