Saturday, 22 January 2011

In the Northern Ireland executive everyone has responsibility and no-one has responsibility

On a theme related to yesterday's post about the UUP's lack of direction, in the News Letter's Political Review yesterday, I wrote about the executive's accountability deficit.  It's an issue which has been thrown into stark relief by the water crisis and continuing wrangling over the budget.
 According to the Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, the Northern Ireland Executive “came of age“ when it published its draft budget last month.  Agreeing a financial package for the next four years is certainly an accomplishment, achieved in trying circumstances.

Previous Northern Ireland budgets did little more than divvy up spoils of the ‘peace process’.  By accepting that they cannot simply wish away spending cuts, minsters here now acknowledge, in theory at least, that self-government means taking responsibility and reaching difficult decisions.

Unfortunately one instance of maturity doesn‘t mean our representatives have reached political adulthood.  Things are already starting to unravel.  Wilson complains, with some justification, that his fellow ministers did not follow up on their initial good work by quickly devising spending plans for their departments.

That means a consultation, intended to give the general public its say on the budget, becomes something of a futile exercise.  The Assembly has little time to absorb the detail which underlies legislation it will be required to vote upon.  Even the Executive, which must take collective responsibility for the budget, is hard pressed to examine its likely consequences with any rigour.

This lack of scrutiny is typical of the way in which regional government operates in Northern Ireland and it illustrates the problems which bedevil power-sharing institutions at Stormont. 
You can read the full article at the News Letter website. 

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