Belfast Telegraph

Sectarianism is real reason for Northern Ireland's dysfunctional Assembly not MLAs’ greed

Curmudgeons who think pay-cut will force politicians back to Stormont are delusional, says Alban Maginness

Trevor Reaney’s report on pay for our MLAs will not come as a big surprise. The former chief executive of the Assembly, has proposed that MLA  salaries be reduced from £49,500 to a figure of £35,888. This will take place, if the Secretary of State James Brokenshire implements this report.

The recommendations have delighted the usual curmudgeons in the press and public that begrudge paying politicians anything at all.

Politicians accept that there is a public mood, which will no longer tolerate paying MLAs their full salary, while there is no functioning Assembly or Executive. Public patience has been exhausted and action to cut salaries has been inevitable for quite some time.

However those who believe, that by implementing Trevor Reaney’s report, that will shock  politicians and as a result there will be a race back to a fully functioning Assembly are  delusional. Pay cuts will not make any difference to politicians, as the reason for the political deadlock is raw sectarian incompatibility, not money.

And if the electorate were truthful to themselves, especially those who vote for Sinn Fein and the DUP, they too are suffering from that same raw sectarian incompatibility, which actually supports the current political stalemate at Stormont.

Those who are most anxious to get the Assembly up and running again are the SDLP, the Alliance Party and the Ulster Unionists,who have been deliberately excluded from the interminable negotiations between the SF and DUP.

Ironically despite not being guilty in bringing about the current stalemate, it is those three parties that will suffer most from any pay cuts that take place. They are being unfairly punished for the sins of the other two parties.

Both SF and the DUP are rich parties and are well able to withstand the cuts made to salaries. SF is reputed to be the wealthiest party in these islands and can manage its resources to get through this period and even direct rule from Westminster, if it is brought about.

The political focus of Sinn Fein is in Dublin and the Dail elections in the south. They are not interested in anything that distracts attention from their progress in southern politics. Given the volatile state of Dublin politics and given the fragility of the Irish government an election will probably take place there in 2018.

A northern executive, having to implement austerity measures would not suit the anti-austerity message that they dubiously peddle in the Republic. The old excuse that austerity emanates from the Tories in London has worn too thin to be a credible defence in the south and its political rivals, like Solidarity–People Before Profit on the left, would relish criticising Sinn Fein for their failure to halt austerity in the north.

Last January, the ill and weak Martin McGuinness, was persuaded to collapse the Executive. Since then one barrier after another has been put up by Sinn Fein to thwart the formation of a new Executive. They seem to have abandoned Strand One of the Good Friday Agreement.

At the same time, the DUP is enjoying its incredible streak of political luck in June, that gave them the balance of power in the House of Commons. They are likely to continue to be in that pivotal position until the completion of Brexit in 2019.

Ironically it is the absence of the seven Sinn Fein MPs on the floor of House of Commons,that guarantees the DUP’s continued position of king maker at Westminster. The 10 DUP MPs are seemingly unconcerned about their Assembly colleagues and are not very bothered that no Assembly or Executive is likely to be formed soon. They can take it or leave it and the absence of the Assembly will not damage them. As a bonus they are also freed from being politically contaminated by association with Sinn Fein in government.

In short the DUP’s  focus is Westminster and Sinn Fein’s is in Dublin. While both parties believe it may be desirable to have an Assembly, they know it is not essential for their respective parties continuing success.

In essence, the two sectarian giants that electorally dominate politics here, are happy enough that they are not sharing power with one and other and having to make damaging compromises,which are essential to make politics work within a power-sharing government.

If the Reaney proposals are fully implemented, they could be extremely damaging for politics, as the further proposal to reduce office costs will inevitably mean the sacking of many constituency office workers. Further severe pay cuts or even nil pay, could drive many good people from the Assembly, through no fault of their own. This will not be good for politics here, as it will disproportionally damage the smaller parties leading to an even greater dominance by the sectarian giants.

Happy new year.

Belfast Telegraph

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