From Irish Political Review: March 2006
"Tough Love" And Joint Stewardship—An
or is Hain serious?
Back in April, Secretary of State Peter Hain laid things on the line for the Northern Ireland parties in astonishingly blunt terms. The current impasse on the political arrangements was to be met with a determined "tough love" strategy.
In the Guardian of 6th April, Hain noted:
"Currently, I and four Ministers from Westminster take all the decisions. The people of Northern Ireland can approve or disapprove, but cannot hold us directly to account….
"It would be ludicrous to again elect politicians who won’t do their jobs to an Assembly that doesn’t exist… Members of the Assembly now being paid salaries and allowances—amounting to £85,000 per year—will lose them. …So, if local politicians will not do their jobs, British direct-rule Ministers will work with our counterparts in Dublin on common sense North South Partnerships: practical co-operation on policing, tackling child offenders, establishing a single energy market and a common mobile phone tariff. I and my Ministerial team will drive forward reforms to abolish the 11+ and open educational opportunity for all. We will cut the number of Councils from 26 to 7 and public bodies from 154 to 75. We will introduce water charges and raise household rates to British levels.
"If locally elected politicians don’t like all this, the solution lies in their hands: taking their places at Stormont and, for the first time in three years, earning their salaries by exercising self government."
I don’t remember a Secretary of State speak in as unrestrained a manner, but does he mean it? The Northern Ireland Office "tough love" strategy is based on the notion that, if the "Northern Ireland parties" do not consent to the restoration of the Executive by November 24th they’ll get "joint stewardship" between the British and Irish Governments.
Since then, Hain and his team have had to act to save the Education Order from almost certain defeat in the House of Lords. The prospects of a defeat were enhanced by the decision of Liberal Democrats peers—on the basis of "democracy"—to oppose the end of selective education. Can anyone remember the last time the House of Lords defeated a Northern Ireland Order? In order to buy off the Liberals, the central part of the Education Order, the end of academic selection (the "11+"), has been temporarily shelved as an issue which could be determined by a Northern Ireland Executive. In essence: 'Set up the Executive by November 24th' and the end of the '11+' will be yours to determine. Otherwise, the '11+' will go on the 24th November.
It has been hinted too that the Review of Public Administration, and the 7 Council model, can be up for grabs if the Executive is restored. None of these carrots appears to be working, as the oddly titled Stormont committee The Restoration of Devolution Committee is currently bogged down in procedural wrangling, with the DUP doing most of the bogging down.
The DUP does not consider the threat of joint stewardship to be a credible one. Content with the focus of life at Westminster, and content for Jim Allister to describe Blair as a "lame duck", there appears no good reason for the DUP to make rash moves. And who could blame them?
Gordon Brown’s visit to Belfast on 20th June—as part of a pre-Prime-Ministerial tour of the Kingdom pledged at the last Labour Party conference—was used to reinforce the 24th November deadline. The Rev. Paisley however took Mr Brown to be a Scot who would "go the second mile" for Protestant Ulster—a son of the manse prepared to provide the "Fair Deal" for Ulster pledged by the DUP.
"I think we can take some comfort from the fact that perhaps the next Prime Minister will go the second mile with us… The second mile, in my view, is let’s be fair to Northern Ireland… He is a Scotsman and knows more about the real differences that do exist in Northern Ireland" (Belfast Telegraph,20 June).
No sign there of Rev. Paisley being overwrought about joint stewardship.
Former Policing Board Vice Chair, Denis Bradley, recently noted in his Irish News column that, if civil servants within the British Irish intergovernmental secretariat busy were drawing up papers and schemes to "fill out" joint stewardship, then leaks would be rife and there would be plenty of rooftop noise from the DUP.
Joint stewardship looks like something which will only start to be considered around the 25th November—if, of course, the 24 November deadline hasn’t shifted. Our assessment for some time has been that Plan "B" should consist of deeper British and Irish collaboration in government, with enhanced local; government being the most stable means of "moving things on". But there is, as yet, barely a sketchy notion of a Plan "B" in the heads of either the British or Irish Governments.
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