Belfast Telegraph

It’s time the DUP proved its claim of no-nonsense reform

The DUP needs to exercise clear authority and show that the devolution project works, says Chris Donnelly

The ability or otherwise of the Executive to navigate a course through the troubled economic waters looming large on the horizon will be the making or breaking of the devolution project.

And given its track record of contracting cold feet when decision time beckons, it is the DUP who will be facing the sternest test in the time ahead.

The unique status of our Executive, as a product of compulsory power-sharing, provides individual ministers with the opportunity to shun any notion of adhering to the convention of collective responsibility. With cake slices from the Executive’s budget shrinking by the day, it should not surprise anyone that spats like that between Health Minister Michael McGimpsey and his DUP counterpart at finance, Sammy Wilson, over prospective cuts to the health budget, have spilled out into the public domain.

The awful reality of the challenge facing our ministers was spelt out|to those assembled during the |executive ‘away day’ at Greenmount last week. In an era of impending |prudence, an intelligent Irish |nationalist agenda would be one which proposed a series of policies to harmonise public expenditure programmes in border areas in order to save money through eradicating the duplication of services in neighbouring communities.

Given unionist politicians spent last week pleading with the Irish government not to introduce separate labels for agricultural produce from the north and south, it is increasingly evident cold financial realities can act as a great incentive to moderate formerly intransigent perspectives.

That might sound straightforward and logical, but the reality is that a commitment to developing such an agenda by the nationalist parties would mean jettisoning |the shallow mantra of calling for |an all-Ireland remedy for every |ailment, great or small, without any serious commitment to costing and devising credible proposals, something which has made it very easy for unionist politicians to ignore what are in many cases the most |rational approaches.

Of course, it is far from certain that the DUP would agree to such proposals, not least because the party has made a name for itself in the current Executive as the party opposing efficiency programmes, a delicious irony given that the DUP has vainly sought to cultivate a reputation as the no-nonsense driver of an efficiency and reform agenda in government.

In successive election manifestos, the DUP has proudly proclaimed itself to be the party capable and willing to take the hard decisions expected of serious governments, including tackling public service |bureaucracy and the duplication of services. Yet its record in this regard has been one of singular failure.

A quick stock take of the failed and still faltering policy initiatives conceived at Stormont illustrates the extent of DUP obstructionism. It’s record includes opposing the recommendations of the non-partisan Review Team to reduce the number of local government councils to seven, and then ultimately thwarting the implementation of the Review of Public Administration due to the party’s inability to control grassroots discontent regarding the proposed boundaries of the compromise figure of 11 councils.

The Iris-gate scandal narrowed the manoeuvring room for the DUP and ultimately forced its leadership into a compromise.

With the unionist electorate having rallied to the party, if not its leader during the Westminster election, who will exercise the decisive authority needed to persuade and embolden the DUP to take the necessary steps to prove that our power-sharing experiment is capable of delivering?

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