“Omnishambles” was a word popularised by The Thick of It, and now we have the looming threat in Northern Ireland of the “omnicrisis” after the Executive appointments.
As with the election itself, the DUP was the undoubted winner. It may feel it lost the Finance Ministry (no doubt that was pre-agreed), but it got that Chair and otherwise all the Ministries and Chairs it would have wanted.
For Sinn Féin, this will be a rocky road. It has shown no interest in government at all, preferring still to moan about those making the decisions than make any itself. It will be able to reduce corporation tax, raise rates and close hospitals; it will not be able to mitigate welfare reform, support Irish language schools or acts, or oversee Casement or Magee expansions – and it has yielded all planning and development policy in return for Infrastructure, a department in which almost everything is already decided years in advance. On top of that, it has put its star player in as Minister for Austerity. This is the worst piece of negotiation since the Dutch swapped New York for Suriname.
Neither is it a good thing that the average age of Ministers is 41. Some would not even have the experience to get an interview for a quango appointment. Seriously. Running a government department is a tough job, requiring budgetary knowledge, people management skills and policy development experience. People aged 41 (I am 39) have not even had half their professional career yet. When it comes to such roles, experience needs to be respected.
Throw in a Minister with responsibility for the arts who believes in creationism, a Minister with responsibility for the environment whose party generally denies climate change, and a Minister with responsibility for Health whose record in office consists of doing things directly contrary to the business case, and it is already an alarming picture.
Justice was perhaps most ridiculous of all. Any prospective Justice Minister would have been wise to agree a five-year budget, legislative programme and set of reforms in advance, in the knowledge that any of these is in practice now subject to DUP approval (given it has the numbers to petition anything and has both the Chair and Vice Chair). It appears Independent Claire Sugden did not do any of this. Thus addressing paramilitarism, bringing down peace walls and reforming prisons falls to someone who rarely attended the Assembly during the last mandate and has no leeway even if she had experience – a DUP delegate, in other words. And when budgets get tight over the coming five years, as we already know they will, whose budget does she think they will cut first…?
The crises are already obvious. Health will run out of money and require it from Justice leaving the police further underfunded; the DUP will act spitefully towards everything from shared housing to the Irish language; Sinn Féin will in response block the reduction in Corporation Tax; past inquiries (e.g. NAMA, Kincora) will be pushed to one side; all while moves to introduce marriage equality and liberalise abortion law will be blocked. The Executive will be utterly incoherent.
Hence, the promise of the “omnicrisis”.
By the way, folks, remember: you voted for this. Other candidates were available…