Belfast Telegraph

Home Opinion Letters

Period of direct rule is logical step forward

Former NIO minister Sir Richard Needham warned that if direct rule was reintroduced, London will "sit on their hands and do nothing".

That was certainly the mindset of the revolving door of NIO ministers during Sir Richard's time, but he is sadly out of touch since he retired as an MP in 1997.

I would, instead, direct him to the Hain years of direct rule in the period up to 2007 and the return of devolution. As Secretary of State, Peter Hain took a decision that, in the absence of local political agreement and very weak local government structures, his team would get on with governing for the people of Northern Ireland.

Using the reforms under the Review of Public Administration (RPA), started by the first round of devolution and finished under direct rule, he took decisions and rapidly pressed ahead. We should not forget that the reduction from 18 health and social care trusts to five happened quickly under direct rule.

By contrast, when devolution returned, it took a further eight years for Stormont to implement the decision to reduce the ridiculous number of 26 councils to the still ridiculous 11 councils we now have. In doing so, the Executive rowed back on the much more ambitious transfer of functions, such as road maintenance, which direct rule ministers proposed.

RPA also proposed the replacement of five education and library boards with a single education and skills authority, estimated to save £14m a year. It, too, suffered from political infighting, finally culminating in the Education Authority in 2015.

So, I'd suggest to Sir Richard that, if anyone has made a virtue of sitting on their hands, it has been the devolved institutions. The cost of Stormont's indecision runs into hundreds of millions, resulting in some of the most pressurised public services in Western Europe.

What Northern Ireland requires is a period of direct rule, where we have a focused secretary of state and a ministerial team with the same determination to deliver fundamental change to our public services and not be afraid to tackle the political taboos that our political class have demonstrated time and again they are unwilling or unable to address. Why are we still waiting?

Name and address with editor

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph