Some weeks ago O’Neill asked whether the Conservatives and Unionists have a policy on the Irish language. I suppose that the Ulster Unionists, as the wing of the pact involved in Assembly politics, should do some thinking in this regard.
I want to pose an even more fundamental policy question. What is the Conservative and Unionist policy on water charges?
If we examine the UUP’s latest press release on the issue, Fred Cobain suggests that Northern Ireland is ‘teetering on the brink of a punitive water tax’. It is contended that ’an open and honest debate’ might have avoided the executive’s current budget difficulties. The insinuation is that earlier action on water rates would have ensued.
I dare say that had the DUP Finance Minister admitted the extent of the black hole in Northern Ireland’s finances, some preventative forward planning might have been possible. But let’s be honest. It has been perfectly evident for some time that the money for deferred water charges would cause a shortfall.
However, the UUP’s language, ‘punitive’ and so forth, certainly suggests that it is opposed to introducing charges. Tom Elliot is another representative who has spoken out against its implementation, predictably on behalf of farmers (should the poor mites have to pay for anything?).
Is it particularly consistent to point out the problem which deferral creates yet continue to advocate deferral? Perhaps, if the party can identify other areas where the money could be saved. I doubt that it will be campaigning for a slash in health spending or cutbacks in the department of employment and learning.
I suspect, given that the Conservative Party emphasises the principles of sound money and balanced budgets, nationally, its favoured approach would be a gradual imposition of the charge. Perhaps a local Conservative might offer a view. Do the local Tories have a policy on water charges?
As to the Conservatives' partners, perhaps I’ve missed something and the UUP has articulated a meticulously logical strategy on this issue. Otherwise there’s a distinct hint of inconsistency and a whiff of reactive politics about its position.
Deferring charges was a short-termist policy, designed to give a young executive a populist boost. The UUP, to its credit, identified that the sums were not adding up. It hasn’t yet followed its logic through and developed a consistent response.