Political news

Admirable sentiments but some distance from a five-year policy plan for Stormont

A 'word cloud' of the draft programme for government shows the words that appear most frequently
Analysis by John Manley

A QUICK word search neatly illustrates the thrust of Stormont's draft programme for government.

The term 'corporation tax' is completely absent from the 114-page document, as is 'waiting lists', 'welfare reform' and 'austerity'.

Contrastingly, the word 'indicators' appears more than 200 times.

While it may look and sound like the dullest PowerPoint presentation you've ever had to sit through, Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness say this framework represents a new way of formulating policy, an approach that has been a success in Scotland.

You're unlikely to get the two leaders to admit it, but it's also an acknowledgement of sorts that they didn't get it right last time.

Figures produced by The Detail website would certainly support this view. Its research concluded that the last Stormont administration failed to fully achieve almost half the targets it set for itself in the previous programme for government.

So now they're coming at things differently, setting out a series of abstract, aspirational goals before garnering expert advice over the coming weeks about how to achieve them.

The final programme will presented at the end of the year, alongside a budget to fund it.

In theory, this fresh approach is to be welcomed. However, it's fair to say that the document released yesterday is exceptionally light on substance, which may explain why Ms Foster and Mr McGuinness chose not to unveil it in front of the media.

The leaders ensured they got their defence in first, branding their plan a 'draft framework' – a double qualification.

The buzzwords and jargon fail to point to specific policies and contrast greatly with the pledges on health spending and job creation in the DUP and Sinn Féin election manifestos.

Instead we get 14 'outcomes' covering policy areas such as equality, crime and reconciliation.

On the latter, for example, the outcome states: "We are a shared society that represents diversity". Yet there is no mention of peace walls, shared and integrated education, or same-sex marriage.

The corresponding indicators include "increase respect for each other", "increase reconciliation" and "improve cultural participation".

Admirable sentiments, yes, but still some distance from the basis of a five-year policy plan.

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