PoliticalOD 17: Groundhog Days

Stormont's maladministration of the Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation, or NIRO, shares many features with the RHI scandal. Intended to encourage green energy production, the scheme created a perverse incentive for companies to game the system, which undermined its original purpose.
There is one key difference, though, which has prevented NIRO from dominating column inches. While officials were mistaken in their belief that London would foot the bill for RHI, and the Northern Ireland budget took the hit, for NIRO, it was electricity customers in Great Britain who picked up most of the cost.
The audit office has issued another damning report, but media interest has been low. Partly, this can be explained by coronavirus and Brexit dominating the political agenda. More worryingly, it reflects an attitude that we should view streams of income from the mainland as 'free money.'
Then, unionists here wonder why many of our fellow Britons view Northern Ireland's place in the …

PoliticalOD 16: Ambiguously certain is not certain at all

On the 16th edition of PoliticalOD, we discuss the Irish American reaction to the Internal Market Bill, and the response of both the government and Northern Ireland's executive to a rise in Covid cases. The common theme is ambiguity.
Boris Johnson sold the Withdrawal Agreement, which creates a trade border in the Irish Sea, on the basis that it did no such thing. From its inception, we've been told that no paperwork or tariffs would be necessary, even though those features were explicitly included in the Northern Ireland protocol. There were mechanisms to mitigate the worst aspects of the deal, but they relied upon the EU acting constructively and reasonably in negotiations. It was never clear why we should expect this change of approach from an organisation that has used division in Northern Ireland ruthlessly to attack the UK, throughout the process.
The Internal Market Bill is the government's attempt to ensure that the EU does not insist on the most extreme type of borde…

Political OD15: All about the message; future, present and past.

At PoliticalOD, we've largely avoided discussing the virus, but this episode coincides with some confused messages coming from the executive. We're hoping to get the economy restarted and schools are back this week, but there's a risk that efforts to restore a form of normality will be undermined by the rather more panicked tone of the health minister. At the same time, the education minister was forced to perform a u-turn after the announcement of exam results became a fiasco right across the UK. With mixed messages in mind, we look ahead to Northern Ireland's centenary, which is upcoming in 2021. As unionists look to use the celebrations to bolster the Union, in the News Letter I asked how unionism should define its core set of guiding principles. We should also be using the national dimension of this occasion to 'win friends and influence people.'Speaking of winning hearts and minds, we look at a new 'publishing platform' called Dissenting Voices. Th…

PoliticalOD 14: Yes to infrastructure, but foundations first not grand schemes

In the 14th episode of PoliticalOD, we discuss a bill being fasttracked through Stormont that could give ministers sweeping new powers at the expense of collective responsibility. Why has the Executive (Committee) Functions Bill received so little scrutiny and why is Arlene Foster keen to wave it through?

The former DUP Spad, Richard Bullick, who was one of the party's most influential strategists, has raised worrying suggestions that his former employers don't understand the potential consequences of this legislation, in this morning's News Letter. He urges MLAs to support amendments, tabled by the UUP's Doug Beattie, that 'remove the dangerous aspects of this bill.'

The Dissenter raises an important point about infrastructure that he's encountered, almost be accident, as part of his day job. Some of the more ambitious plans to create growth in Northern Ireland could be compromised by the executive's failure to deliver reforms to fundamental services and…

PoliticalOD 13: New government, same old problems

If it weren't clearly obvious before, the Bobby Storey funeral scandal shows exactly why parties in southern Ireland were wary of forming a coalition government with Sinn Fein. "Sinn Fein is different to other parties and not in a good way," the Republic's new deputy prime minister, Leo Varadkar, remaked when he was asked for his recation to republicans' flagrant flouting of social-distancing regulations.

At TheArticle, I argue that the members of this movement, which murdered thousands, think they can do what they like. And, the way that the 'peace process' is structured, they're probably right. Daily, we discover new instances of poor governance in Northern Ireland. The chances of being able to do something about that are minimal, because one party will always stand in the way of reform.

We also ask whether the new Republic of Ireland government, led by Micheal Martin, will be less confrontational to unionists than its predecessor. I wrote about the…

Political OD 12: Approaching approaches

The latest PoliticalOD podcast is a Covid-free zone, as The Dissenter and I look at the government's approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol. Last month, it published a document setting out its view that the Withdrawal Agreement should entail few barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

I analysed the detail (or lack of it) in a recent CapX article. Big questions remain over VAT, food checks, the enforcement of single market regulations and human rights' provisions. There's still a very real threat that consumers will face fewer choices and higher costs, after January 2021.

The latest row to blow up at Stormont concerns pensions for victims of the Troubles, currently being held up by Sinn Fein, on the basis that some injured terrorists will be prevented from accessing the money. We still don't know how much the scheme is likely to cost, or it's overall impact on other spending here, as the Department of Finance continues to fail to produce a…

PoliticalOD Podcast 11: Recap on health reform, no budget ... big decisions looming.

It's almost two months since our last podcast and the time since then has been dominated by Covid-19.

At the start of the crisis, Northern Ireland's health service was in an unenviable position. The NHS has performed with distinction nevertheless, coping with the disease and saving lives, but when coronavirus moves into the background, its underlying problems - decades of delayed reforms and mounting waiting lists - will remain.

We ask how the power-sharing executive is likely to cope with these challenges, in light of some of the dividing lines that have emerged again as we try to restart the economy and move out of lockdown. And we look at its chances of putting together a budget, given the main parties' preference for making crowd-pleasing announcements and funding pet-projects.

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