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Reconstruction, regeneration and reconciliation needed for the North - Kearney

3 December, 2014


EARLIER THIS WEEK, a member of the NI Public Services Alliance (NIPSA) trade union executive committee, speaking on radio in a personal capacity, blamed austerity and the budget crisis in the North on the local political parties. 

A couple of weeks previously, a member of the Workers’ Party did the same at a meeting in Magherafelt.  During the same period, an SDLP spokesperson absurdly said likewise.

Each of them was wrong – and all of them completely missed the point.

The NIPSA committee member ignored the analysis her own union has produced. Last October, it set welfare cuts into its proper context and explained how the Executive budget crisis is the culmination of systematic reductions in the Block Grant since 2010 by this British Tory-led Government at Westminster.

The Irish Congress of Trades Unions has taken the Department of Finance figures and calculated that, since 2010, £3.6billion cumulatively has been removed by the British from the North’s Block Grant. Today it is £1.1billion less in real terms than 2010.

The original four-year budget settlement backloaded the planned cuts to the financial year 2014-15, with a devastating cumulative impact on public services.

It may suit some sections of the negative Left and others to take refuge in a lazy and politically-sectarian narrative and so avoid what needs to be done; however, there is no alternative to cross-community and cross-party opposition against austerity and inequality in the North.

This British Government is responsible for the economic and budget crisis. It is ideologically committed to austerity. 

Financial sustainability of public services within the Six Counties has been pushed to breaking point. Structural weaknesses aside, there is not enough money to run the regional economy.  

The economic crisis has now converged with the deep impasse and gridlock within the political process.

Financial issues and welfare cuts are part of the Stormont talks. Some parties are prepared to roll over and acquiesce to the British Conservatives’ agenda. Sinn Féin will not be doing that.

The Northern political process and institutions cannot work without unconditional commitment to power-sharing and partnership government. But political agreement presupposes sufficient funding exists to make the economy work in the form of a viable Block Grant, fiscal levers to generate revenue, and economic stimulus, not austerity.

The North is a special case.

Long before it began to emerge from conflict, the state was characterised by systemic and structural economic inequality. The political conflict exacerbated that legacy.

Its economic future is interdependent with the all-island economy and a new regional economic and fiscal framework. The political status quo has failed. That also needs fixing.

The Peace Process has to enter a new phase to allow reconciliation to flourish.

A reconstruction, regeneration and peace and reconciliation plan for the North has never been proposed before. ‘Blue sky thinking’ and a new strategic vision would bring that about. Collective commitment from every side will be needed to produce that, as well as significant new funding – not half-measures or secondhand policies.

All political parties, the trades union movement, business community and wider civic society should agree a common position and then seek the strategic funding from the British and Irish governments (and elsewhere) to support investment in a bespoke reconstruction, regeneration and reconciliation plan for the North. 

It is time for big thinking, big leadership and even bigger vision and ambition . . . from everyone

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