Opinion

The naked cynicism of our politicians as public services flounder – Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy is an Irish News columnist and former director of Belfast Institute for Further and Higher Education.

A new Stormont executive has taken power at a time when public services are under enormous pressure (Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye)

Eureka! Twenty-six years after the Good Friday Agreement, Stormont’s main parties have made an amazing discovery.

They have realised that the agreement totally ignored social and economic issues, a point which this column (the only one in Ireland, I think) has been labouring for some time.

The agreement elevated sectarian politics above the everyday needs of ordinary people. The main parties put their own selfish interests before the welfare of those who elected them. Just as de Valera said Labour must wait (meaning workers were less important than flags), the GFA decided that politics were more important than people.

The 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement was marked in April
The Good Friday Agreement decided that politics were more important than people.

So, institutionalised sectarianism smothered our public services, leaving 700,000 on NHS waiting lists, 104,000 children in poverty and widespread deprivation, homelessness and hunger.

Now the parties want to return to work, even though their “work” crippled the welfare state, which was still largely intact in 1998. Having sat at home for five of the past seven years, they say Stormont needs money, a point they ignored 26 years ago.



They will receive no more cash than they already have. To obtain more, they will have to charge us for public services. (It’s called Thatcherism. Now who won the war?)

SF/DUP have prioritised public bickering and private agreements over the delivery of public services. So what will they do now?

By refusing to take the health ministry, they avoided responsibility for tackling the problem they created. They offered messages of support to the king, but not to the 700,000 on the waiting lists, or the families of the 17,000 who died on those lists between 2019 and 2022.

Ulster Unionist MLA Robin Swann is health minister for a second time, but also intends to contest the Westminster election
Robin Swann is health minister for a second time

Now Robin Swann will be blamed for the health backlog, even though a SF health minister’s walk-out from 2016 for three years contributed significantly to the problem.

SF/DUP also by-passed agriculture. Alliance’s Andrew Muir will now be blamed for Lough Neagh’s pollution, although it was exacerbated by three agriculture ministers’ “Going for Growth” strategy from 2013. It was begun by a SF minister and continued by two DUP ministers.

Justice Minister Naomi Long and Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Andrew Muir  , as Northern Ireland's devolved government is restored, Two years to the day since it collapsed. PICTURE:  COLM LENAGHAN
Justice Minister Naomi Long and Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Andrew Muir. PICTURE: COLM LENAGHAN

The DUP badly needs improved public services, so that they can have something to show for failing to pass their seven tests. While some public sector pay demands can be met in the short term, public services will not improve any time soon.

So they may have to engineer another walk-out. This would suit SF just fine as they face the biggest dilemma of all: now that they hold the highest office, do they intend to govern the state or destroy it?

If they govern us on Britain’s behalf, they are unionists by another name (and embracing the British prime minister is pretty unionist, 33 years after the IRA fired mortars at Downing Street). If they intend to destroy the state, while claiming to be a party for everyone, they are being habitually dishonest.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak and First Minister Michelle O'Neill embrace at Stormont as Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald looks on. PICTURE: SIMON WALKER/10 DOWNING STREET
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and First Minister Michelle O'Neill embrace at Stormont as Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald looks on. PICTURE: SIMON WALKER/10 DOWNING STREET

It is not in their interests to make the northern state work. If it had a successful economy, with thriving public services, why join a southern state, with a health service in crisis, growing racism and a shameful housing shortage?

SF offered no criticism of the “Safeguarding the Union” document during last week’s theatrical performance at Stormont. Their real intent for the event was to launch their southern campaign for the forthcoming local, European and general elections.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris during a joint press conference at Hillsborough Castle
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris with the Safeguarding the Union document during a joint press conference at Hillsborough Castle (Niall Carson/PA)

SF/DUP offered messages of support to the king, but not to the 700,000 on the waiting lists, or the families of the 17,000 who died on those lists between 2019 and 2022

SF’s bid for the office of taoiseach will be bolstered by the presence of Michelle O’Neill, as an example of “Here is one we made earlier”. Stormont is still just a side show in the push for power in Dublin. Northern public services are less important than southern public perception.

Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill with party president Mary Lou McDonald in the office of the first minister at Stormont
Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill with party president Mary Lou McDonald, who hopes to be the next taoiseach, in the office of the first minister at Stormont (Liam McBurney/Liam McBurney/PA Wire)

The Greek scholar, Archimedes, is reported to have shouted “Eureka” when he noticed the displacement of water in his bath. He was so excited he got up and ran naked through the streets. Things are different here.

Having run politically naked for the past 26 years, our politicians are now shouting “Eureka”. Their theatrical carve-up of power shows they are unlikely to get dressed any time soon.