Monday, 15 October 2007

Robinson's message is correct but inconsistent with party line

Although Peter Robinson has been one of the most consistently and incurably obnoxious local politicians over the course of his career, there is little doubt that his pragmatism and organisational ability set him head and shoulders above most of his fellow party members as regards political ability.

His party affiliation notwithstanding, Robinson has delivered perceptive and considered analyses in speeches before; therefore it is not especially surprising that he has identified the economic and organisational weaknesses of the power-sharing arrangements his own party have been denying over the past number of months.

Robinson and the DUP claimed they would wrest a huge peace dividend from Gordon Brown. When this was not immediately forthcoming they claimed that implementation of power sharing structures was dependent on the same. That vow turned out to be as empty as other DUP promises and it has fallen to Robinson, as Finance Minister, to warn us that there will be significant belt-tightening required in the forthcoming Budget and Programme for Government.

The East Belfast MP has not flourished for over 30 years within the DUP without resorting to their archetypal posturing, but he is also astute enough to absorb the crux of our economic difficulties without resorting to shrill indictments of the British government.

It does not require an economic genius to recognise that Northern Ireland is unhealthily reliant on public sector spending, but when Robinson comments that the “days of large increases in public spending are not sustainable", he is actually striking a dissonant chord from the orthodoxy of his party’s economic policies (all be it a starkly more realistic one).

"We need an economy that creates wealth not merely one that consumes public spending." Is incontrovertible truth as regards the Northern Irish economy, but it is a million miles away from Paisley lambasting Gordon Brown as “the enemy” because he refuses to indefinitely fill the coffers as a reward for recalcitrant bigots from each side of the community deigning to form an ineffective administration together.

Robinson has also identified the democratic and decision making weaknesses in the current system of devolution, and in so doing is according with the views of more imaginative members of the UUP. He advocates opposition and comes within a whisker of proposing cross-community coalition, before submitting to the atavistic instincts of his party and condemning community designation.

Community designation is manifestly not ideal, but whilst we have a divided society it is simply not possible to do away with it altogether and not return to a position of majority rule by one community.

The least euphonious of Robinson’s remarks are again grounded in patent reality. Northern Ireland’s devolved institutions, and the attendant arms of local government and administration, form an unwieldy and unsustainable bureaucratic behemoth which must be drastically reduced in order to facilitate efficient and cost-effective government and public services. The Finance Minister alludes, but does not linger, on the public service job cuts all of this must mean, he also fails to pursue his own logic to the inexorable conclusion that the local government restructuring both unionist parties vehemently opposed, needs to be instigated in some form.

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