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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Political OD Podcast 10: Making Stormont better

The coronavirus crisis hit Northern Ireland properly just as Sir Patrick Coghlin published his report into the RHI scandal. This was an unfortunate coincidence, at a time when people were looking for the parties at Stormont to work effectively together and set aside their differences for the common good.

At The Critic, I examined the problems exposed in the report in detail. A malfunctioning civil service, a lack of political expertise, but, most pervasively, a cavalier attitude to public money, so long as it was believed to be coming from Westminster.

The Executive has traditionally used devolved government to extract every last penny from the Treasury, then divvy it up, rather than taking on the difficult work of reforming services. As The Dissenter argues on his blog, ministers were busy finding money for their political hobby horses, while much needed ICU units were left unfinished.

The rapid spread of Covid-19 has brought a new-found seriousness to the work of most members of the Ex…

Political OD Podcast 9: An uncertain legacy

There was an unprecedented reaction when Julian Smith was replaced as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland by Brandon Lewis. On social media in particular, it seemed like the entire province was gnashing its teeth and rending its garments.

But, what did the outgoing minister really achieve? He got the Assembly back up and running, partly because Sinn Fein and the DUP were desperate to avoid an election and partly thanks to some trickery during negotiations. During those talks, he comprehensively trashed the three-stranded approach, that prevents the Republic of Ireland government from interfering in Northern Ireland's affairs.
There are already signs that the new power-sharing Executive is wobbling. The parties are unhappy with funding, as ever, and there's little reason to believe they're ready to take a fresh, responsible attitude to the public finances. So far, there have been plenty of spending commitments, but few explanations of how these might be paid for or wha…

Political OD Podcast 8: Confidence in short supply

Now that Northern Ireland's power-sharing institutions have been back at work for a couple of weeks, David from The Dissenter and I met up to discuss how things have been going.

So far, the new Assembly has been dominated by complaints about funding and the debacle over MOT tests, which are currently suspended due to equipment failure in the test centres. At the start of the last decade, we were in the midst of another crisis caused by crumbling water infrastructure.
In the News Letter last week, I pointed out that nothing much had changed in the last ten years. By 2030 will Stormont have addressed the most pressing issues we face today? It's doubtful while the focus is always on attracting more money, rather than spending what we have wisely or effectively.
There is little emphasis on genuine collaboration or a shared message from the new Executive. Instead, any difficult conversations about policy are immediately shut down. This is given visual expression by parties emerging…

Political OD Podcast 7: Promises, Promises

In the latest PoliticalOD podcast, we ask whether the New Decade, New Approach document really promises a new dawn at Stormont. A wave of optimism accompanied the deal - anything to get the institutions back together - but already, as I pointed out at CapX, the atmosphere is beginning to sour. An unseemly wrangle over money has broken out, as the parties struggle to explain how they'll pay for a wishlist of new commitments.

As ever, their answer is that the Treasury should stump up the cash, but there is an atmosphere of wariness in London about funding Northern Ireland even more lavishly, thanks to the RHI inquiry's revelations.

David and I examine more of the agreement's pitfalls. It was published in a way that flouted Strand 1 of the Belfast Agreement, it leaves key issues cloaked in ambiguity and it fails to address the structural frailties that cause Stormont to crash repeatedly. I wrote about some of the same themes in a Reaction analysis piece, just after the deal …

PoliticalOD Podcast 6: Health status, Executive stasis and Boris's strategic manoeuvres on Brexit

The Dissenter and I discuss the origins of the health crisis, a prospective Stormont deal that will solve very little and the strategic challenges that face Boris on Brexit.

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PoliticalOD Podcast 5: Media, asking questions and the election calm before....

The Dissenter and I get together to discuss media coverage of Sinn Féin, the tendency to throw about pejoratives rather than deal with issues and the comparatively quiet election week.

Find it at Podbean.