Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist and writer.
Stormont deal staves off collapse
Northern Ireland will receive devolved corporation tax and implement the Coalition’s welfare reform measures after the provincial parties struck an eleventh-hour deal and concluded more than 100 hours of formal negotiations.
Peter Robinson, the First Minister, claims that this will allow the Finance Minister to “put some money back into the departments and ease pressure”. Government spending by the Northern Ireland Executive was facing a fresh round of deep reductions as the Treasury continued to levy fines on the Assembly for failing to pass the UK government’s welfare reforms.
The settlement also saw a new deal on parades and what Theresa Villiers, the Northern Ireland Secretary, described as an “entirely new and comprehensive approach to dealing with the past” which will apparently serve victims better.
She added that the British Government will “contribute substantially” to the cost, and later described “the accompanying very generous financial arrangements”. The BBC had reported earlier in the week that local parties were seeking £2 billion in loans and funding.
Whilst the devolution of Corporation Tax might lead to a fall in the block grant, the Government has allowed the Executive to retain the full proceeds of the sale of Belfast Harbour to help cover the shortfall. Previously, 50 per cent of such revenue would have been offered to the Treasury.
David Cameron, who came under fire last week after a personal intervention came to nothing and it was suggested he quit the province early to attend his wife’s birthday party, praised the outcome from a safe distance on Twitter.
However, the scope of the deal has been criticised by the cross-community Alliance Party, which has criticised the number of issues apparently left unresolved. David Ford, its leader, said that the agreement “falls short of the Alliance’s ambitions and the expectations of the public.”
He particularly criticised failure to reach lasting and comprehensive solutions to issues such as marching and public flags, an ongoing source of cross-community discord.
Whilst a good step institutional reform fell far short of the “reboot” required, Ford continued. He has previously called for the end of the province’s 1998 mandatory power-sharing arrangements on the grounds that they hinder good government.
The moderate nationalist SDLP also expressed disappointment, but the Ulster Unionists described the package as “transformational” and claimed that Sinn Fein (who also praised the outcome) had been sitting on a workable deal for some time.
Jones marks five years as First Minister
As we see out 2014, the BBC have run a retrospective on Carwyn Jones five years at the helm of the Labour Party in Wales – the one bastion where they’ve managed to maintain their stranglehold and see off the nationalists.
From the point of view of those citizens not pre-occupied by the constitution, it contains few stand-out bright spots. The BBC’s compilation of highs and lows lists “winning the leadership” and “securing more powers” as concrete highs, set against slumping educational attainment and a mounting crisis in the Welsh NHS – both sagas that this column has covered extensively in the year gone by.
Perhaps most disappointingly for an arch-devolutionary like Jones, less than a third of Welsh adults can name their First Minister unprompted, even after five years in office.
SNP plan for separation cost taxpayers £2.5 million
Taking advantage of MSPs being away from Holyrood, the Nationalist administration in Edinburgh has finally slipped out the true cost of their White Paper, ‘Scotland’s Future’, to the taxpayer – and it is double earlier estimates.
The paper was particularly criticised by sceptics for basing rosy economic predictions on projected oil prices twice the current rate. The arch-unionist Financial Times has not been the only paper to report this week that the current oil slump would have laid waste to Scotland’s finances on the very threshold of independent statehood.
Opposition parties have accused the Nationalists of abusing the apparatus of state for partisan purposes, and are calling for the full cost of the “fanciful” White Paper to be paid for out of party funds.
The UK Government also produced a series of papers on a variety of subjects pertaining to independence during the campaign. However these did not receive the extensive, state-funded publicity drive that “Scotland’s Future” enjoyed.
NI Water strike threatens Christmas misery
Industrial action over an ongoing pension dispute by staff at NI Water has threatened supplies over the Christmas period.
Members of the trades unions Unite, Nipsa and the GMB have voted to work-to-rule, and for the withdrawal of on-call services and overtime. The move has prompted Chief Executive Sara Venning to warn customers that they may experience interruptions in supply in weeks ahead.
Stormont’s Regional Development Minister, Danny Kennedy, has appealed to the unions to reconsider a course of action which threatens “abject misery” for Ulster householders.