Tom Kelly: Northern Ireland is an economic, social and political basket case

The Stormont Assembly and Executive are not functioning due to the DUP’s boycott of powersharing institutions (PA)
The Stormont Assembly and Executive are not functioning due to the DUP’s boycott of powersharing institutions (PA)

A few years back I wrote that if and when a border poll occurs, I will vote for Irish unity. The kamikaze approach of the DUP towards Brexit was one of crash and burn. They failed at their fast and loose game of one-upmanship.

The border poll, when it does take place, is unlikely to lead to a united Ireland in the short term because too much uncertainty exists in the minds of voters. Ultimately those concerns will be assuaged.

The Irish economy – albeit not without problems – is successful, buoyant and robust. By contrast, Northern Ireland is an economic, social and political basket case. There’s a facade being played out but Northern Ireland is no economic Narnia.

The Northern Ireland civil service is moribund. There needs to be seismic and systemic change. As the RHI debacle proved, the civil service failed as much as the politicians who oversaw the flawed scheme. The result was the taxpayer picked up the tab, with everyone apparently responsible but no-one actually accountable.

Political unionism is still letting Northern Ireland down. Stonewalling against compromise is hardly a strategy. Allowing marginal politicians and insignificant loyalist figures to determine the outcome of serious international negotiations is a fool’s paradise.

Read more:

  • Will Britain move the goalposts for border poll on Irish unity?
  • Denis Bradley: North's politics is a case study of resistance to change
  • Brian Feeney: North has never been integral part of UK

The cost of this folly is cripplingly high. The health service is not just crumbling, it is on life support. Staff are demoralised, demotivated and departing in their droves. The answer doesn’t simply lie in shutting down a couple of hospitals. The health service needs leadership.

The Department for Infrastructure is unwieldy. Those at the helm appear to have no grip on planning policy/delivery, despite planning being flagged up by internal and external reports as being the biggest impediment to economic growth in Northern Ireland. The roads network has more potholes than Baghdad.

Whilst almost everyone agrees there is not enough investment in the decaying water and sewerage systems, the fault doesn’t lie with already squeezed ratepayers.

The blame lies firmly with the government and in particular, the departments for infrastructure (and finance) as the principal shareholder in Northern Ireland Water (NIW), which not only starves it of much-needed funds but unbelievably takes a multi-million-pound dividend from the company.

Local politicians knew this when in office but still withheld adequate funding, preferring instead to support more colourful and populist projects.

As government is the principal shareholder, they are currently failing NIW as much as the shareholders and bondholders have done with the privatised British water companies.

The Executive Office should be mothballed. It has more framework documents than there are peace walls in Belfast.

Local politicians are being consulted by the head of the civil service about forthcoming budgets. Some of the earmarked savings are pitiful tokenism aimed at hitting hardest the most vulnerable. Is that the measuring stick of a civilised modern society?

Reducing period product funding for schools by 40 per cent makes for paltry financial savings undermines one of the few positive pieces of legislation to come out of the last assembly.

Axing holiday hunger payments is senseless when the Department of Education’s evaluation report says it has a disproportionate impact on disabled children.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK withholding this payment. Would Chris Heaton-Harris accept this for children in his own constituency?

Apparently also on the list for abolition are free prescriptions and the SmartPass for over sixties.

Some of the loudest champions for these measures are the well heeled. Their enthusiasm for such cuts wouldn’t extend to paying back decades of their non-means-tested child allowance or supporting paying higher taxes for better public services.

Northern Ireland is primarily a low wage economy. People have higher levels of disability and illnesses than other parts of the UK. 

They are what used to be known as ‘lace curtain poor’ – proud but yet impoverished. 

Why should they bear the financial brunt of failed politics and poor management?